Open Wide

in The New Inquiry: “Since the earliest days of Linux and of Wikipedia, conflicting attitudes to profit have co-existed with a commitment to digital sharing. Whether it’s source code, text, artistic works, or government data, some see the open digital commons as an ethical alternative to corporate production, while others believe that sharing and profit go together like wine and cheese. And now, as massively open online courses bring the rhetoric of digital openness to education and Web-based startups are making it easy to share apartments and cars and unused parking spaces and jobs, the seeds have been planted for a sharing economy whose flowering is welcomed both by idealists who value authenticity, sustainability and community sharing over commodity ownership and by venture capitalists looking to make their next fortune. Strange bedfellows.
Cities have long been sites of commons and commerce: full of trade and private enterprise but shaped by parks and streetscapes, neighborhoods and rhythms of daily life that grow from non-commodified sharing. In his 2012 book Rebel Cities, David Harvey observes how, in cities, “people of all sorts and classes mingle … to produce a common of perpetually changing and transitory life,” from the irrepressible energy of Manhattan to the café culture of Rome to Barcelona’s distinctive architecture to the symbolic meaning of modern Berlin. Yes, by 2009, volunteers had spent a hundred million hours building Wikipedia, but cities put this dramatic number into perspective: Every year the citizens of Canada alone volunteer roughly 20 Wikipedias for hospitals and children’s sports, for charities and the arts —  the equivalent of more than a million full-time jobs in a population of 30 million — and there is no reason to believe that the count is complete or that Canada is exceptional.
The similarities between urban and digital worlds are not incidental. Both are cultural spaces, and cultural spaces have always been iceberg-like. Above the surface, market forces and state interventions; beneath, a mass of noncommercial activity organized, at least in part, as open commons. But while digital entrepreneurs look to the “Internet’s way of working” to disrupt the bricks and mortar of our cities, urban experiences have sober lessons for the digerati if they will listen: The relationship between commons and commerce is fraught with contradictions. Harvey never once mentions computer technology in his book, but his reflections on cities make a compelling case that money-making and sharing are far from natural allies, and that the role of openness must be questioned if commons-based production is to be a real alternative.”

Colab: Winner of the 2013 AppMyCity! Prize

CaptureAtlantic Cities: “Colab, a Brazilian mobile application designed to encourage better citizenship, is the winner of the 2013 AppMyCity! Prize for the year’s best urban app.
The app’s five founders, Bruno Aracaty, Gustavo Maia, Paulo Pandolfi, Josemando Sobral and Vitor Guedes, from Recife and São Paulo, claimed the $5,000 prize last week at the annual New Cities Summit in São Paulo. Colab competed against two other finalists, BuzzJourney, from Kfar-Saba, Israel, and PublicStuff, from New York City. All three finalists presented their project to the international audience at the New Cities Summit. The audience then voted to determine the winner.
Colab utilizes photos and geolocation to connect citizens to cities based on three pillars of interaction: reporting daily urban issues; elaborating on and proposing new projects and solutions; and evaluating public services….
In total, the New Cities Foundation received 98 submissions for the AppMyCity! Prize 2013. A panel of judges chose the finalists out of ten semi-finalists, based on ability to create widespread impact and helpful user interface”

The five elements of an open source city

Jason Hibbets in Open “How can you apply the concepts of open source to a living, breathing city? An open source city is a blend of open culture, open government policies, and economic development. I derived these characteristics based on my experiences and while writing my book, The foundation for an open source city.  Characteristics such as collaboration, participation, transparency, rapid prototyping, and many others can be applied to any city that wants to create an open source culture. Let’s take a look at these characteristics in more detail.

Five characteristics of an open source city

  1. Fostering a culture of citizen participation
  2. Having an effective open government policy
  3. Having an effective open data initiative
  4. Promoting open source user groups and conferences
  5. Being a hub for innovation and open source businesses

In my book, I take a look at how these five principles are being actively applied in Raleigh, North Carolina. I also incorporate other experiences from my open government adventures such as CityCamps and my first Code for America Summit. Although Raleigh is the case study, the book is a guide for how cities across the country, and world, can implement the open source city brand.”

The Future of Internet Governance: 90 Places to Start

Council on Foreign Relations Blog: “The open, global Internet, which has created untold wealth and empowered billions of individuals, is in jeopardy. Around the world, “nations are reasserting sovereignty and territorializing cyberspace” to better control the political, economic, social activities of their citizens, and the content they can access. These top-down efforts undermine the Internet’s existing decentralized, multi-stakeholder system of governance and threaten its fragmentation into multiple national intranets. To preserve an open system that reflects its interests and values while remaining both secure and resilient, the United States must unite a coalition of like-minded states committed to free expression and free markets and prepared to embrace new strategies to combat cyber crime and rules to govern cyber warfare.
These are the core messages of the just-released CFR report, Defending an Open, Global, Resilient, and Secure Internet. The product of a high-level task force, chaired by former Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte and former IBM Chairman Samuel J. Palmisano, the report opens by describing the epochal transformation the Internet has wrought on societies and economies worldwide—particularly in the developing world.
Facilitating this unprecedented connectivity has been a framework based not on governmental (or intergovernmental) fiat but on “self-regulation, private sector leadership, and a bottom-up policy process.” By leaving regulation in the hands of technical experts, private sector actors, civil society groups, and end-users, the pioneers of the early Internet ensured that it would “reflect a broad range of perspectives and keep pace with rapidly changing technology.” They also ensured that rights of free expression and privacy would emerge as dominant norms….
Given current trends, can the United States possibly preserve the open global internet? Yes, but the first step is getting its own house in order. Distressingly, the U.S. government lacks a coherent strategic vision, an adequate policy coordination framework, and the requisite legislative authorities to develop and implement a national cyberspace policy, undercutting its global leadership.
Beyond this general guidance, the CFR task force offers some ninety (!) recommendations for U.S. policymakers.”

The Use of Data Visualization in Government

Report by Genie Stowers for The IBM Center for The Business of Government: “The purpose of this report is to help public sector managers understand one of the more important areas of data analysis today—data visualization. Data visualizations are more sophisticated, fuller graphic designs than the traditional spreadsheet charts, usually with more than two variables and, typically, incorporating interactive features. Data are here to stay, growing exponentially, and data analysis is taking off, pushed forward as a result of the convergence of:
• New technologies
• Open data and big data movements
• The drive to more effectively engage citizens
• The creation and distribution of more and more data…
This report contains numerous examples of visualizations that include geographical and health data, or population and time data, or financial data represented in both absolute and relative terms—and each communicates more than simply the data that underpin it.In addition to these many examples of visualizations, the report discusses the history of this technique, and describes tools that can be used to create visualizations from many different kinds of data sets. Government managers can use these tools—including Many Eyes, Tableau, and HighCharts—to create their own visualizations from their agency’s data.
The report presents case studies on how visualization techniques are now being used by two local governments, one state government,and three federal government agencies. Each case study discusses the audience for visualization. Understanding audience is important, as government organizations provide useful visualizations to different audiences, including the media, political oversight organizations, constituents, and internal program teams.To assist in effectively communicating to these audiences, the report details attributes of meaningful visualizations: relevance,meaning, beauty, ease of use, legibility, truthfulness, accuracy,and consistency among them.”


Marina Gorbis, executive director of the Institute for the Future (IFTF),  released a book entitled The Nature of the Future: Dispatches from the Socialstructed World. According to the IFTF website, the book “offers an inspiring portrayal of how new technologies are giving individuals so much power to connect and share resources that networks of individuals—not big organizations—will solve a host of problems by reinventing business, education, medicine, banking, government, and scientific research.” In her review in the New York Journal of BooksGeri Spieler argues that, when focusing on the book’s central premise, Gorbis “breaks through to the reader as to what is important here: the future of a citizen-created world.”

In many ways, the book joins the growing literature on swarmswikinomicscommons-based and peer-to-peer production methods enabled by advances made in technology:

“Empowered by computing and communication technologies that have been steadily building village-like networks on a global scale, we are infusing more and more of our economic transactions with social connectedness….The new technologies are inherently social and personal. They help us create communities around interests, identities, and common personal challenges. They allow us to gain direct access to a worldwide community of others. And they take anonymity out of our economic transactions.”

Marina Gorbis subsequently describes the impact of these technologies on how we operate as “socialstructing”:

“We are moving away from the dominance of the depersonalized world of institutional production and creating a new economy around social connections and social rewards—a process I call socialstructing. … Not only is this new social economy bringing with it an unprecedented level of familiarity and connectedness to both our global and our local economic exchanges, but it is also changing every domain of our lives, from finance to education and health. It is rapidly ushering in a vast array of new opportunities for us to pursue our passions, create new types of businesses and charitable organizations, redefine the nature of work, and address a wide range of problems that the prevailing formal economy has neglected, if not caused.

Socialstructing is in fact enabling not only a new kind of global economy but a new kind of society, in which amplified individuals—individuals empowered with technologies and the collective intelligence of others in their social network—can take on many functions that previously only large organizations could perform, often more efficiently, at lower cost or no cost at all, and with much greater ease.”

Following a brief intro describing the social and technical drivers behind socialstructing the book describes its manifestation in finance, education, governance, science , and health.  In the chapter “governance beyond government”  the author advocates the creation of a revised “agora” modeled on the ancient Greek concept of participatory democracy. Of particular interest, the chapter describes and explains the legitimacy deficit of present-day political institutions and governmental structures:

“Political institutions are shaped by the social realities of their time and reflect the prevailing technological infrastructure, levels of knowledge, and citizen values. In ancient Athens, a small democratic state, it was possible to gather most citizens in an assembly or on a hill to practice a direct form of democracy, but in a country with millions of people this is nearly impossible. The US Constitution and governance structure emerged in the eighteenth century and were products of a Newtonian view of the universe….But while this framework of government  and society as machines worked reasonably well for several centuries, it is increasingly out of sync with today’s reality and level of knowledge.”

Building upon the deliberative polling process developed by Professor James Fishkin, director of the Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford University, the author proposes and develops four key elements behind the so-called socialstructed governance:

The chapter provides for an interesting introduction of the kind of new governance arrangements made feasible by increased computing power and the use of collaborative platforms. As with most literature on the subject, little attention however is paid to evidence on whether these new platforms contribute to a more legitimate and effective outcomes – a necessary next step to move away from “faith-based” discussions to more evidence based interventions.

Why Are We Signing Our Emails With “Thank You?”

Krystal D’Costa on Anthropology in Practice in Scientific American: “These types of linguistic structures are known as “politeness formulae.” … These patterns of responses are deeply nuanced and reflect the nature of the relationship between participants: degree of intimacy, relative status, and length of contact or expected duration of separation all influence how these interactions are carried out.

In the age of texting, these practices may seem antiquated, but the need for those sorts of rituals remains important, particularly in electronic communication where tone is hard to read. We end our communiques with “talk later,” “talk 2 u tomorrow,” or even simply “bye.” “Thanks” and “Thank you” have worked their way into this portion of the formula particularly in emails. More traditional valedictions have been replaced with “Thank you” so subtly that it’s now a common sign-off in this medium. But what does it mean? And why is it more acceptable than “Sincerely” or “Yours truly”?

It is in part be a reflection of our times. Email offers a speedier means of contact than an actual letter (and in some cases, a telephone), but that speed also means we’re sending more messages through this medium both for personal and professional reasons, and reading and responding to these messages requires a commitment of time. So it’s more important that the sender recognize the burden that they’ve placed on the recipient. In a time when letters took time to write, send, and respond to, it was important for the sender to attest to her reliability. Responses and actions were not so easy to take back. “Sincerely” and “Yours truly” which were meant to build trust between communicants. Credibility was an important determinant of whether a response would be issues. Today, as the web enables stranger to contact each other with little effort, credibility is less of a factor in determining responses (SPAM mail aside) when weighed against time.”

Technocracy within Representative Democracy

Christina Ribbhagen’s new paper on “Technocracy within Representative Democracy: Technocratic Reasoning and Justification among Bureaucrats and Politicians”: ” How can you possibly have ‘Technocracy within Representative Democracy’, as suggested in the title of this thesis? Shouldn’t the correct title be ‘Technocracy or Representative Democracy’, the sceptic might ask? Well, if technocracy is strictly defined, as rule by an elite of (technical) experts, the sceptic obviously has a point. Democracy means rule by the people (demos) and not rule by (technical) experts. However, in tune with Laird (1990; see also Fischer 2000), I argue that merely establishing the absence of a simple technocratic ruling class is only half the story; instead a more subtle interpretation of technocracy is needed.
Laird (1990, p. 51) continues his story by stating that: ‘The problem of technocracy is the problem of power relations and how those relations are affected by the importance of esoteric knowledge in modern society. The idea that such knowledge is important is correct. The idea that it is important because it leads to the rise of a technically skilled ruling class is mistaken. The crucial issue is not who gains power but who loses it. Technocracy is not the rise of experts, it is the decline of citizens’. Or as formulated by Fischer (2000), ‘One of the most important contemporary functions of technocratic politics, it can be argued, rests not so much on its ascent to power (in the traditional sense of the term) as on the fact that its growing influence shields the elites from political pressure from below’. The crucial issue for the definition of technocracy then is not who governs, rather it lies in the mode of politics. As argued by Fischer (2000), too often writers have dismissed the technocratic thesis on the grounds that experts remain subordinate to top-level economic and political elites. A consequence of this, he continues, is that this argument ‘overlooks the less visible discursive politics of technocratic expertise. Not only does the argument fail to appreciate the way this technical, instrumental mode of inquiry has come to shape our thinking about public problems, but it neglects the ways these modes of thought have become implicitly embedded in our institutional discourses and practices’ (p. 17). Thus, technocracy here should not be understood as ‘rule by experts’, but rather ‘government by technique’ focusing on the procedures and content of politics, suggesting that technocratic reasoning and justification has gained ground and dominates the making of public policy (Boswell, 2009; Fischer, 1990; Meynaud, 1969; Radaelli, 1999b;). To be sure, indirectly this will have consequences as to who will win or lose power. A policy issue or process that is technocratically framed is likely to disempower those lacking information and expertise within the area (Fischer, 1990; Laird, 19903), while supplying those with information and expertise with a ‘technocratic key’ (Uhrwing, 2001) leading to the door of political power.”

Big Data Is Not Our Master. Humans create technology. Humans can control it.

Chris Hughes in New Republic: “We’ve known for a long time that big companies can stalk our every digital move and customize our every Web interaction. Our movements are tracked by credit cards, Gmail, and tollbooths, and we haven’t seemed to care all that much.
That is, until this week’s news of government eavesdropping, with the help of these very same big companies—Verizon, Facebook, and Google, among others. For the first time, America is waking up to the realities of what all this information—known in the business as “big data”—enables governments and corporations to do….
We are suddenly wondering, Can the rise of enormous data systems that enable this surveillance be stopped or controlled? Is it possible to turn back the clock?
Technologists see the rise of big data as the inevitable march of history, impossible to prevent or alter. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier’s recent book Big Data is emblematic of this argument: They say that we must cope with the consequences of these changes, but they never really consider the role we play in creating and supporting these technologies themselves….
But these well-meaning technological advocates have forgotten that as a society, we determine our own future and set our own standards, norms, and policy. Talking about technological advancements as if they are pre-ordained science erases the role of human autonomy and decision-making in inventing our own future. Big data is not a Leviathan that must be coped with, but a technological trend that we have made possible and support through social and political policy.”

'Wiki' style government policymaking means everyone is a lobbyist

Robert Halfon MP is a member of the  UK Commons Public Administration Committee (PASC) in the Guardian: “We need to end phoney consultation in policymaking – and stop trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to implementation… Another week, another lobbying scandal. But what if the government found a way to really listen to all its citizens, to genuinely involve the public in policy making? So that it would no longer be an issue of who has the government’s ear – because everyone would?
A report published by the Public Administration Select Committee, which I sit on, calls on government to adopt an open, “wiki” style approach to policy making, where public opinion, ideas and contributions are sought and welcome at any and all stages of the policy cycle. This kind of genuine public engagement would contrast sharply with the status quo: tokenistic exercises in phoney consultation about issues that have already been decided.
We all welcome the government’s moves towards more digital engagement, but what our committee really wants to see is more direct, real public involvement in policy making, whether that is via the internet or other means. The most important point is that government treats public engagement as a serious part of policy-making. That will mean communicating and engaging in ways that are tailored to every audience, in new and more traditional ways. This is not just a time or cost-saving exercise, although using existing and new technology and media well should bring those benefits. This is about making better policy. To those who say it can’t be done, our report contains examples from New Zealand, the US and even as far afield as Redbridge councilshowing that if there is real will, crowd sourcing of policy and real public engagement can be possible…
We have moved from being subjects to citizens to active open-source citizens – and yet our policy making does not recognise this. The public no longer want to be handed out policy like tablets of stone from Mount Sinai. In fact they want to go up the mountain with Moses. However, they have to be able to believe that their input can make a real difference. Genuine engagement means ensuring that a good proportion of the public actually participate in open policy-making. Although this will be a challenge for government to achieve, without it there’s little point.”