Interpretative Communities


A new paper on “Local governance in the new information ecology” in the journal Public Money & Management calls for the creation of “interpretative communities” to make sense locally of open government data. In particular they argue that:

“The availability of this open government data… solves nothing: as many writers have pointed out, such data needs to be interpreted and interpretation is always a function of a collective—what has been called an ‘interpretative’ or ‘epistemic’ community.”

The call mirrors the emerging view that the next stage regarding open data is to focus on making sense of the data, and using it to serve the public good.

The authors identify “three different models of ‘interpretative communities’ that have emerged over the last few decades, drawing on, respectively, literary theory, science and technology studies and international politics” – including reference groups, epistemic communities and expert networks. As to develop these communities locally, the paper states that it will require us…

“to rethink the resources and institutions that could support a local use of OGD and other resources. Such institutional support for local interpretation cannot be wholly local but needs to draw, in a critical and interactive manner, on wider knowledge bases. In the end, the model of the local that needs to be mobilized is not one based on spatial propinquity alone, or on a bounded sense of local, but one in which the local is seen as relational, connected and dynamic…we might look to the new technologies, and the newly-emerged social networks or Web 2.0 in particular, for such a balance of the local and the extra local”.

The paper ultimately is a critique of the current movement to provide open data that is presented as objective knowledge but is based on a “view from nowhere”…

“To make it into the view from somewhere will require the construction of powerful, yet open, interpretative communities to enact local governance with all of the subsequent questions arising about current modes of democratic representation, sectional interests in the third and private sector and centrallocal government dynamics. The prospects of such an information ecology to support interpretative community building emerging in the current environment in anything other than a piecemeal and reactive way do not appear promising.”