The last few years, we have seen a variety of experimentation with new ways to engage citizens in the decisions making process especially at the local or community level. Little is known however on what works and why. The National League of Cities, working with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, released a report today reviewing the impact of experimentation within 14 communities in the US, highlighting several “bright spots”. The so-called scans focus on four aspects of community engagement:
The use of new tools and strategies
The ability to reach a broad spectrum of people, including those not typically “engaged”
Notable successes and outcomes
Sustainable efforts to use a range of strategies
A slide-deck summarizing the findings of the report:
David Eaves: “…And that is my main point. The real impact of open data will likely not be in the economic wealth it generates, but rather in its destructive power. I think the real impact of open data is going to be in the value it destroys and so in the capital it frees up to do other things. Much like Red Hat is fraction of the size of Microsoft, Open Data is going to enable new players to disrupt established data players.
What do I mean by this?
Take SeeClickFix. Here is a company that, leveraging the Open311 standard, is able to provide many cities with a 311 solution that works pretty much out of the box. 20 years ago, this was a $10 million+ problem for a major city to solve, and wasn’t even something a small city could consider adopting – it was just prohibitively expensive. Today, SeeClickFix takes what was a 7 or 8 digit problem, and makes it a 5 or 6 digit problem. Indeed, I suspect SeeClickFix almost works better in a small to mid-sized government that doesn’t have complex work order software and so can just use SeeClickFix as a general solution. For this part of the market, it has crushed the cost out of implementing a solution.
Another example. And one I’m most excited. Look at CKAN and Socrata. Most people believe these are open data portal solutions. That is a mistake. These are data management companies that happen to have simply made “sharing (or “open”) a core design feature. You know who does data management? SAP. What Socrata and CKAN offer is a way to store, access, share and engage with data previously gathered and held by companies like SAP at a fraction of the cost. A SAP implementation is a 7 or 8 (or god forbid, 9) digit problem. And many city IT managers complain that doing anything with data stored in SAP takes time and it takes money. CKAN and Socrata may have only a fraction of the features, but they are dead simple to use, and make it dead simple to extract and share data. More importantly they make these costly 7 and 8 digital problems potentially become cheap 5 or 6 digit problems.
On the analysis side, again, I do hope there will be big wins – but what I really think open data is going to do is lower the costs of creating lots of small wins – crazy numbers of tiny efficiencies….
Don’t look for the big bang, and don’t measure the growth in spending or new jobs. Rather let’s try to measure the destruction and cumulative impact of a thousand tiny wins. Cause that is where I think we’ll see it most.”
Government Technology: “A couple of years ago, a conversation was brewing among city leaders in the Sacramento, Calif., suburb of Elk Grove — the city realized it could no longer afford to limit interactions with an increasingly smartphone-equipped population to between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m… The city considered several options, including a vendor-built mobile app tailor-made to meet its specific needs. And during this process, the city discovered civic engagement startup PublicStuff. Founded by Forbes’ 30 Under 30 honoree Lily Liu, the company offers a service request platform that lets users report issues of concern to the city.
Liu, who previously held positions with both New York City and Long Beach, Calif., realized that many cities couldn’t afford a full-blown 311 call center system to handle citizen requests. Many need a less expensive way of providing responsive customer service to the community. PublicStuff now fills that need for more than 200 cities across the country.”
Union Square Ventures: “Right now, there are thousands of scientists whose research is being held up because they lack access to the experimental expertise needed to test a hypothesis or verify a result. But while we have seen how online marketplaces can dramatically expand and create new businesses in many other diverse areas, it is still too difficult for those scientists to access the right experimental expertise.
Help is on the way. Techniques that some label “science as a service” are making specialized resources and institutional expertise available on demand and with openness and transparency. Science Exchange is applying these market-based principles, having created an online community for scientists to list, discover, access and pay for experimental services from research institutions around the world, thereby creating the world’s first true online marketplace for specialized scientific expertise….
Science Exchange’s mission is to democratize access the global network of scientific resources and expertise. We are excited to be investors in Science Exchange. You can read more about the company here.”
David Talbot in MIT Technology Review: “Researchers at IBM, using movement data collected from millions of cell-phone users in Ivory Coast in West Africa, have developed a new model for optimizing an urban transportation system….
While the results were preliminary, they point to the new ways that urban planners can use cell-phone data to design infrastructure, says Francesco Calabrese, a researcher at IBM’s research lab in Dublin, and a coauthor of a paper on the work. “This represents a new front with a potentially large impact on improving urban transportation systems,” he says. “People with cell phones can serve as sensors and be the building blocks of development efforts.”
The IBM work was done as part of a research challenge dubbed Data for Development, in which the telecom giant Orange released 2.5 billion call records from five million cell-phone users in Ivory Coast. The records were gathered between December 2011 and April 2012. The data release is the largest of its kind ever done. The records were cleaned to prevent anyone identifying the users, but they still include useful information about these users’ movements. The IBM paper is one of scores being aired later this week at a conference at MIT.”
Wilson Center: ” The Commons Lab today released a new policy memo exploring the vulnerabilities facing the widespread use and acceptance of social media and crowdsourcing. This is the second publication in the project’s policy memo series.
Using real-world examples, security expert George Chamales describes the most-pressing cybersecurity vulnerabilities in this space and calls for the development of best practices to address these vulnerabilities, ultimately concluding that it is possible for institutions to develop trust in the emerging technologies. From the memo’s executive summary: Individuals and organizations interested in using social media and crowdsourcing currently lack two key sets of information: a systematic assessment of the vulnerabilities in these technologies and a comprehensive set of best practices describing how to address those vulnerabilities. Identifying those vulnerabilities and developing those best practices are necessary to address a growing number of incidents ranging from innocent mistakes to targeted attacks that have claimed lives and cost millions of dollars. Click here to read the full memo on Scribd.
USDA News Release: “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, along with Bill Gates, and U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, today kicked off a two-day international open data conference, saying that data “is among the most important commodities in agriculture” and sharing it openly increases its value.
Secretary Vilsack, as head of the U.S. Government delegation to the conference, announced the launch of a new “virtual community” as part of a suite of actions, including the release of new data, that the United States is taking to give farmers and ranchers, scientists, policy makers and other members of the public easy access to publicly funded data to help increase food security and nutrition.
“The digital revolution fueled by open data is starting to do for the modern world of agriculture what the industrial revolution did for agricultural productivity over the past century,” said Vilsack. “Open access to data will help combat food insecurity today while laying the groundwork for a sustainable agricultural system to feed a population that is projected to be more than nine billion by 2050.”
The virtual Food, Agriculture, and Rural data community launched today on Data.gov-the U.S. Government’s data sharing website-to catalogue America’s publicly available agricultural data and increase the ability of the public to find, download, and use datasets that are generated and held by the Federal Government. The data community features a collection of more than 300 newly cataloged datasets, databases, and raw data sources related to food, agriculture, and rural issues from agencies across the U.S. Government. In addition to the data catalog, the virtual community shares a number of applications, maps and tools designed to help farmers, scientists and policymakers improve global food security and nutrition….
The conference and the U.S. actions supporting open agricultural data fulfill the Open Data for Agriculture commitment made as part of the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which was launched by President Obama and G-8 partners at the 2012 G-8 Leaders Summit last year at Camp David, Maryland.”
G-8 Open Data for Agriculture Conference Aims to Help Feed a Growing Population and Fulfill New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition Commitment
Secretary Vilsack Announces Launch of a Virtual Community to Give Increased Public Access to Food, Agriculture, and Rural Data
The White House launches Tumblr: “We see some great things here at the White House every day, and sharing that stuff with you is one of the best parts of our jobs. That’s why we’re launching a Tumblr.
We’ll post things like the best quotes from President Obama, or video of young scientists visiting the White House for the science fair, or photos of adorable moments with Bo. We’ve got some wonky charts, too.
Because to us, those are actually kind of exciting. But this is also about you. President Obama is committed to making this the most open and accessible administration in history, and our Tumblr is no exception.
We want to see what you have to share: Questions you have for the White House, stories of what a policy like immigration reform means to you, or ways we can improve our Tumbling. We’re new here, and we’re all ears”
A new paper by Prof. Vickie Edwards in the International Journal of Organization Theory and Behavior (IJOTB) concludes: “Research in the years to come should focus on how organizational forms are best adapted to integrate these participatory methods. Specifically, by examining organizational structures and how they integrate with the public in both successful and unsuccessful cases, scholars can gain a better understanding of appropriate organizational forms for stronger democracies at the local level. Such studies should also consider behavioral aspects and the views of both administrators and citizens who become involved in such efforts, as a lack of buy-in at any stage in the participatory process can cause the process to fail – something evidenced by the Great Society efforts in engagement. Personality factors may also play a role in the success or failure of engagement efforts, as such efforts may hinge on the public popularity of individual administrators who interface with citizens. Documenting efforts at participation and engagement through the use of case studies, survey methods, and social network analysis can aid practitioners in identifying best practices, as well as scholars as we seek to better understand each new piece of the participation puzzle”.
Statement from the Boston Children’s Hospital: “The higher the percentage of people in a city, town or neighborhood with Facebook interests suggesting a healthy, active lifestyle, the lower that area’s obesity rate. At the same time, areas with a large percentage of Facebook users with television-related interests tend to have higher rates of obesity. Such are the conclusions of a study by Boston Children’s Hospital researchers comparing geotagged Facebook user data with data from national and New York City-focused health surveys.
Together, the conclusions suggest that knowledge of people’s online interests within geographic areas may help public health researchers predict, track and map obesity rates down to the neighborhood level, while offering an opportunity to design geotargeted online interventions aimed at reducing obesity rates.
The study team, led by Rumi Chunara, PhD, and John Brownstein, PhD, of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Informatics Program (CHIP), published their findings on April 24 in PLOS ONE. The amount of data available from social networks like Facebook makes it possible to efficiently carry out research in cohorts of a size that has until now been impractical.”