Cities must do more with data than ‘crowdsource pothole locations’


Technically: “Using data from citizen-powered mobile and web apps has become such a clear best practice for city governments, that a new question was the focus at the 7th annual Mayors’ Innovation Summit held in Philadelphia last week. What’s next?…

When it comes to moving the civic technology movement forward, the consensus was twofold: we need to continue reaching out to new user bases and seeking better ways to make sense of the data we’re collecting. (A similar need for deeper goals also came out of a civic innovation panel)

“We’re going to have to get better as cities at processing all of this info,” said Mesa, Ariz. Mayor Scott Smith, whose iMesa application invites ideas from citizens for how to make Mesa a better place to live. He reported the app is already becoming overloaded with data, in his words “a great problem to have.”

Transparency, E-Government, and Accountability Some Issues and Considerations


New Paper in Public Performance & Management Review: “Greater use of information and communications technology and e-government can increase governmental transparency. This, in turn, may invite citizen participation, foster e-governance, and facilitate e-democracy. However, beyond a certain point, more government openness may be dysfunctional if it reduces operational capacity. This article claims that in the real world, where the proverbial question is “Why can’t government be like business?,” many public managers are challenged by the need to perform a balancing act between the pursuit of greater openness and private-sector efficiency. The article concludes that there is a need to develop theories, models, and trainings to assist managers in addressing this balancing challenge.”

An Ethnographic Approach to Impact Evaluation: Stop Measuring Outputs, Start Understanding Experiences


Panthea Lee, a principal at Reboot, in TechPresident: “Is open government working? I asked the question in a previous post …Too often, assessing the impact of open government initiatives amounts to measuring outputs: how many developers flocked to a civic tech hackathon; the amount of procurement records feeding corruption hawks and socially-minded graphic designers; or the number of tweets or media mentions about a particular initiative, regardless of whether they are from the same industry blogs and actors covering open government.
Quantitative metrics have their place. They may be useful for gauging the popularity of an initiative. They are almost always used to justify funding for an initiative. But, ultimately, these studies say very little about open government’s actual impact on people….We need to move beyond measuring outputs and toward understanding experiences….
Applied ethnography holds great potential for understanding how individuals experience open government initiatives. Ethnography––“a portrait of people”––is the study of people within their social and cultural contexts. It embraces context, examining how results can be explained by human factors and situational interactions. Ethnography allows us to understand the meaning of participation for different individuals––who is affected or not, and why. (Ethnographic research is often mistakenly equated with “interview studies” or other types of qualitative research. An immersive research approach, it uses techniques such as participant observation, unstructured interviews, and artifact collection to attempt a holistic analysis of human behaviours, interactions, and perceptions over time.)
Take, for example, this ethnographic study of a participatory budgeting initiative in Rome. The study found that through engagement with the participatory budgeting process, some participants “discovered a passion for politics,” leading them to join neighborhood associations and local political parties. Other participants, however, left the budgeting process feeling more cynical about and disengaged from participatory democracy.”

The Governance Report 2013


From the Hertie School of Governance: “Why are so few of today’s global issues getting settled? Are we ready to handle future financial and fiscal crises? Which governance innovations can actually contribute and how can we measure our progress? The Governance Report 2013 highlights these challenges, seeks governance innovations and introduces a new generation of governance indicators….
Featured Innovations:

The Internet as Politicizing Instrument


New Issue of Transformations (Editorial): “This issue of Transformations presents essays responding to Marcus Breen’s recent book Uprising: The Internet’s Unintended Consequences. Breen asks whether the Internet can become a politicising instrument for the new online proletariat – the individualised users isolated by the monitor screen. He asks “if the proletariat can use the Internet, is it freed from the moral and social constraints of the past that were imposed by conventional media and its regulation of the public space?” (32) This question raises further issues. Does this freedom translate into an emancipatory politics where the proletariat is able to pursue its own ends, or does it simply reproduce the power relation between the user-subject and the Internet and those who control and manage it. The articles in this issue respond in various ways to these questions.
Marcus Breen’s own article “The Internet and Privatism: Reconstructing the Monitor Space” makes a case for privatism – the restriction of subjective life to isolated or privatised experience, especially in relation to the computer monitor – as the new modality of meaning making in the Internet era. Using approaches associated with cultural and media studies, the paper traces the way the Internet has influenced the shift in the culture towards values associated with the confluence of ideas around the private, best described by privatism.
Fidele Vlavo’s article investigates the central discourses that have constructed the internet as a democratic and public environment removed from state and corporate control. The aim is to call attention to the issues that have limited the development of the internet as a tool for socio-political empowerment. The paper first retraces the early discursive constructions that insist on representing the internet as a decentralised and open structure. It also questions the role played by the digerati (or cyber elite) in the formulation of contradictory demands for public interests, self-governance, and entrepreneurial rights. Finally, it examines the emergence of two early virtual communities and their attempts to facilitate free speech and self-regulation. In the context of activists advocating freedom of expression and government institutions re-organizing legislation to control the Internet, the examination of these discourses provides a useful starting point for the (re)assessment of the potential of direct online mobilization.
Emit Snake-Being’s article examines the limits of the Internet as a politicising instrument by showing how Internet users are subject to the controls of the search engine algorithm, managed by elite groups whose purpose is to reproduce themselves in terms of neo-liberal capitalism. Invoking recent political events in the Middle East and in London in which a wired proletariat sought to resist and overturn political authorities through Internet communication, Snake-Beings argues that such events are compromised by the fact that they owe their possibility to Internet providers and their commercial imperatives. Snake-Being’s article, as well as most of the other articles in this issue, offers a timely reminder not only of the possibilities, but of the limits of the Internet as a politicising instrument for progressive, emancipatory politics.
Frances Shaw’s paper concerns the way in which the logic of surveillance operates in contested sites in cities where live coverage of demonstrations against capitalism leads to confrontation between demonstrators and police. Through a detailed account of the “Occupy Sydney” demonstration in 2011, Shaw shows how both demonstrators and police engaged in tactics of surveillance and resistance to counter each other’s power and authority. In an age of instant communication and global surveillance, freedom of movement and freedom from surveillance in public spaces is drawn into the logics of power mediated by mobile ‘phones and computer based communication technology.
Karyl Ketchum’s paper offers detailed analysis of two Internet sites to show how the proletarianisation of the Internet is gendered in terms of male interests. Picking up on Breen’s argument that Internet proletarianisation leads to an open system that “supports both anything and anyone,” she argues that, in the domain of online pornography, this new-found freedom turns out to be “the power of computer analytics to harness and hone the shifting meanings of white Western Enlightenment masculinities in new globalising postcolonial contexts, economies and geopolitical struggles.” Furthermore, Ketchum shows how this default to male interests was also at work in American reporting of the Arab Spring revolutions in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries. The YouTube video posted by a young Egyptian woman, Asmaa Mahfouz, which sparked the revolution in Egypt that eventually overthrew the Mubarak government, was not given due coverage by the Western media, so that “women like Mahfouz all but disappear from Western accounts of the Arab Spring.”
Liden and Giritli Nygren’s paper addresses the challenges to the theories of the political sphere posed by a digital society. It is suggested that this is most evident at the intersection between understandings of technology, performativities, and politics that combines empirical closeness with abstract understandings of socio-political and cultural contexts. The paper exemplifies this by reporting on a study of online citizen dialogue in the making, in this case concerning school planning in a Swedish municipality. Applying these theoretical perspectives to this case provides some key findings. The technological design is regarded as restricting the potential dialogue, as is outlined in different themes where the participants enact varying positions—taxpayers, citizen consumers, or local residents. The political analysis stresses a dialogue that lacks both polemic and public perspectives, and rather is characterized by the expression of different special interests. Together, these perspectives can provide the foundation for the development of applying theories in a digital society.
The Internet and Privatism: Reconstructing the Monitor Space (Marcus Breen)
The Digital Hysterias of Decentralisation, Entrepreneurship and Open Community (Fidele Vlavo)
From Ideology to Algorithm: the Opaque Politics of the Internet (Emit Snake-Beings)
“Walls of Seeing”: Protest Surveillance, Embodied Boundaries, and Counter-Surveillance at Occupy Sydney (Frances Shaw)
Gendered Uprisings: Desire, Revolution, and the Internet’s “Unintended Consequences”(Karyl E. Ketchum)
Analysing the Intersections between Technology, Performativity, and Politics: the Case of Local Citizen Dialogue (Gustav Lidén and Katarina Giritli Nygren)”

If My Data Is an Open Book, Why Can’t I Read It?


Natasha Singer in the New York Times: “Never mind all the hoopla about the presumed benefits of an “open data” society. In our day-to-day lives, many of us are being kept in the data dark.

“The fact that I am producing data and companies are collecting it to monetize it, if I can’t get a copy myself, I do consider it unfair,” says Latanya Sweeney, the director of the Data Privacy Lab at Harvard, where she is a professor of government and technology….

In fact, a few companies are challenging the norm of corporate data hoarding by actually sharing some information with the customers who generate it — and offering tools to put it to use. It’s a small but provocative trend in the United States, where only a handful of industries, like health care and credit, are required by federal law to provide people with access to their records.

Last year, San Diego Gas and Electric, a utility, introduced an online energy management program in which customers can view their electricity use in monthly, daily or hourly increments. There is even a practical benefit: customers can earn credits by reducing energy consumption during peak hours….

The Performativity of Data: Re-conceptualizing the Web of Data


New Paper by several authors of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, including Jim Hendler, Marie Joan Kristine Gloria, Dominic DiFranzo and Marco Fernando Navarro: “As the discipline of Web Science matures, its interdisciplinary claim has many researchers unsure about its core theory and methodology. Instead, we often see results that are more multi-disciplinary than interdisciplinary. The following contribution attempts to recast our understanding of the current methodologies and tools leveraged by the Web Science community.  Specifically, we review the Semantic Web and Linked Data technologies not just from a technical perspective; but, through a critical reading of key social theories such as Goffman’s theory of performance. Our goal is to re- conceptualize the performativity of semantic web tools their boundaries, and any potential avenues for future research”

Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy


New Report by McKinsey Global Institute: “Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy, a report from the McKinsey Global Institute, cuts through the noise and identifies 12 technologies that could drive truly massive economic transformations and disruptions in the coming years. The report also looks at exactly how these technologies could change our world, as well as their benefits and challenges, and offers guidelines to help leaders from businesses and other institutions respond.
We estimate that, together, applications of the 12 technologies discussed in the report could have a potential economic impact between $14 trillion and $33 trillion a year in 2025. This estimate is neither predictive nor comprehensive. It is based on an in-depth analysis of key potential applications and the value they could create in a number of ways, including the consumer surplus that arises from better products, lower prices, a cleaner environment, and better health….
Policy makers can use advanced technology to address their own operational challenges (for example, by deploying the Internet of Things to improve infrastructure management). The nature of work will continue to change, and that will require strong education and retraining programs. To address challenges that the new technologies themselves will bring, policy makers can use some of those very technologies—for example, by creating new educational and training systems with the mobile Internet, which can also help address an ever-increasing productivity imperative to deliver public services more efficiently and effectively. To develop a more nuanced and useful view of technology’s impact, governments may also want to consider new metrics that capture more than GDP effects. This approach can help policy makers balance the need to encourage growth with their responsibility to look out for the public welfare as new technologies reshape economies and lives.”
 

100 Urban Trends


A Glossary of Ideas from the BMW Guggenheim Lab—New York, Berlin, and Mumbai : “Over the past two years, the BMW Guggenheim Lab, a mobile urban laboratory centered around the topic of life in cities today, has offered free programs and workshops and implemented urban projects in New York City (August 3–October 16, 2011), Berlin (June 15–July 29, 2012), and Mumbai (December 9–January 20, 2013). Created as a resource, 100 Urban Trends aims to identify the most talked-about trends in urban thinking, as they were discussed in these three venues. Each individual glossary offers 100 contextualized definitions that apply to the way we understand, design, and live in cities.
Integral to 100 Urban Trends is the concept of cities as “idea makers.” In cities, people come together, share their thoughts and common interests, and generate the ideas that shape our world. Dense, growing cities have been and continue to be the catalyst for human progress, powered by daily proximity among their citizens as much as anything else. Despite some of the drawbacks of such massive urban centers, they may well embody the future for human life. Today’s cities are competing to attract more people; greater urban density can mean more conflict, but it can also produce a greater diversity of viewpoints and more opportunity for positive change.
In recent years, there has been an unequivocal shift in the study of cities. Urban thinking, whether related to architecture or urbanism, has become dramatically less focused on infrastructure, and more on the ultimate goal and reason for the existence of cities — that is, the well-being of the people that inhabit them and constitute their very soul and essence. “Cluster,” “concentrate,” and “collaborate” seem to have become the three big Cs of urban thinking of late — but that story is not new. Clustering, searching for a concentration of people, and finding ways to collaborate have been part of the human experience since prehistoric times. Then, as now, people gathered in search of protection, conviviality, and exchange.”

The Art of Data Visualization (video)


PBS Off Book: “Humans have a powerful capacity to process visual information, skills that date far back in our evolutionary lineage. And since the advent of science, we have employed intricate visual strategies to communicate data, often utilizing design principles that draw on these basic cognitive skills. In a modern world where we have far more data than we can process, the practice of data visualization has gained even more importance. From scientific visualization to pop infographics, designers are increasingly tasked with incorporating data into the media experience. Data has emerged as such a critical part of modern life that it has entered into the realm of art, where data-driven visual experiences challenge viewers to find personal meaning from a sea of information, a task that is increasingly present in every aspect of our information-infused lives.”