• October 27, 2016
  • 8 minutes
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18 amazing things government did this week

Crashing planes into drones, freeing death row, and a mini Boston in South Korea

Good Day, Apolitical Readers!

Portugal announces the world’s first nationwide participatory budget: The scheme lets people propose what the government should spend its money on, and then vote on the ideas they want. Although Paris this year gave out $110million in its version, no one has yet tried it on a national scale. We speak exclusively to the minister in charge, Graça Fonseca, about what they’re planning, and how they might boost turnout by letting people vote via ATM machines. This piece appears in our feed on government innovation.

Governance and Citizen Engagement

Australia is trying to develop an Airbnb for state assets like schools, halls and sports pitches. As part of an innovation challenge in South Australia, public servants are coming up with ways to deploy underused government buildings, vehicles and machinery for social good. (The Mandarin)

Ever more US states are automatically registering people to vote. Last year, Oregon became the first to do so, swelling its rolls by some 250,000 voters. Alaska seems set to become the sixth, with 29 states considering proposals. It remains to be seen whether this will actually boost turnout. (Governing)

Myanmar is explaining its budget to citizens for the first time. After 49 years of military rule in which citizens had no information about public finances, the government has launched an online dashboard with simple analyses and infographics about what the money goes on. (GovInsider)

Safety and Justice

Kenya has spared everyone on its death row. All 2,655 men and 92 women sentenced to death have had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment. Kenya rarely carries out the sentence and performed a similar amnesty in 2009. (The New York Times)

Pakistan has imposed a mandatory 25-year sentence for ‘honour killings’. More than 1,000 women were killed last year, often by their fathers, brothers or husbands. Until now they have usually escaped punishment because the law allowed the victim’s family, i.e. the killers’ close relatives, to forgive them. (The Japan Times)

Technology Frontiers

The UK is crashing drones into planes to see what happens. The drones will be driven into stationary military aircraft to assess how much damage they do and the results will be used to inform drone regulations. (The Verge)

Poland wants to make urban low-emission zones that only electric cars can enter.  The proposals are intended to encourage uptake of e-cars and reduce pollution. (CleanTechnica)

Iceland is drilling the hottest hole in the world. Rather than merely boring into hot rocks forgeothermal energy, the project wants to tap the magma flowing into volcanoes. If successful, each well could power ten times as many homes as a geothermal plant. (New Scientist)

Evolving Cities

South Korea has built a model city the size of downtown Boston. Garbage is sucked through pneumatic pipes to a sorting plant. The tens of thousands of inhabitants can get everywhere by public transport, plus there is a bike rack on every block and car sharing with priority parking for e-cars. Around 40% is green space and the city emits a third less CO2 than equivalents. (FastCo)

Paris has been ranked as having the best public transport in the world. In a new global ranking that assesses what proportion of a city’s population lives within easy walking distance of public transport, Paris scores 100%. Los Angeles, by contrast, scores 11%. (Institute for Transport and Development Policy)

Energy, Environment and Economic Opportunity

Renewable energy capacity has overtaken coal worldwide. A new IEA report, emphasising the role played by government incentives, said that half a million solar panels were installed every day last year and that China installed two wind turbines every hour. (BBC)

Sikkim has become the first fully organic state in India. All its 66,000 farmers have now committed to working without pesticides and chemical fertilisers. It comes 13 years after the state started removing chemical subsidies and paying for the farmers’ certification. (Good)

Holland is increasing its tree cover by 25% to cut its carbon footprint. The forestry commission also believes it can meet a third of its carbon target with fast-growing temporary woods. Former industrial zones or fallow fields will be given over to forestry for a generation before going back to agriculture. (CityLab)

Health and Ageing

The UK is trialling cameras that remotely monitor patients’ vital signs. The cameras replace cumbersome sensors by watching the patients’ chests move and tracking their pulse by detecting subtle changes in the pinkness of their skin. They are being used in hospitals and police stations. (New Scientist)

Switzerland slashed heroin addiction by prescribing it. Regulating heroin use and providing safe injection rooms cut overdose deaths by more than half and HIV infection by 65%. Addicts started to take better care of themselves and more than half of those in the scheme were clean within three years. (The Huffington Post)

Europe’s drug regulator is to publish the results of clinical trials online. It will be the first to publish the full data submitted by drug developers, allowing other researchers to independently analyse and to learn from them. (Nature)

And finally

Researchers are using ‘robomussels’ to track climate change. The artificial molluscs are the same shape, size and colour as actual mussels, and record temperature and sunlight in mussel beds around the world. (Northeastern)

Apolitical curates what’s working in the public service worldwide and profiles the men and women behind the most imaginative and effective government solutions to the complex problems our societies face. Our stories can now also be read via the World Economic Forum and The Huffington Post. Read our FastCo column on how to build the perfect city here.

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(Picture Credit: Andrés Monroy-Hernández)

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