How could technology improve policy-making?

Beccy Allen from the Hansard Society (UK): “How can civil servants be sure they have the most relevant, current and reliable data? How can open data be incorporated into the policy making process now and what is the potential for the future use of this vast array of information? How can parliamentary clerks ensure they are aware of the broadest range of expert opinion to inform committee scrutiny? And how can citizens’ views help policy makers to design better policy at all stages of the process?
These are the kind of questions that Sense4us will be exploring over the next three years. The aim is to build a digital tool for policy-makers that can:

  1. locate a broad range of relevant and current information, specific to a particular policy, incorporating open data sets and citizens’ views particularly from social media; and
  2. simulate the consequences and impact of potential policies, allowing policy-makers to change variables and thereby better understand the likely outcomes of a range of policy options before deciding which to adopt.

It is early days for open data and open policy making. The word ‘digital’ peppers the Civil Service Reform Plan but the focus is often on providing information and transactional services digitally. Less attention is paid to how digital tools could improve the nature of policy-making itself.
The Sense4us tool aims to help bridge the gap. It will be developed in consultation with policy-makers at different levels of government across Europe to ensure its potential use by a wide range of stakeholders. At the local level, our partners GESIS (the Leibniz-Institute for the Social Sciences) will be responsible for engaging with users at the city level in Berlin and in the North Rhine-Westphalia state legislature At the multi-national level Government to You (Gov2u) will engage with users in the European Parliament and Commission. Meanwhile the Society will be responsible for national level consultation with civil servants, parliamentarians and parliamentary officials in Whitehall and Westminster exploring how the tool can be used to support the UK policy process. Our academic partners leading on technical development of the tool are the IT Innovation Centre at Southampton University, eGovlab at Stockholm University, the University of Koblenz-Landau and the Knowledge Media Institute at the Open University.”

Are Smart Cities Empty Hype?

Irving Wladawsky-Berger in the Wall Street Journal: “A couple of weeks ago I participated in an online debate sponsored by The Economist around the question: Are Smart Cities Empty Hype? Defending the motion was Anthony Townsend, research director at the Institute for the Future and adjunct faculty member at NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service. I took the opposite side, arguing the case against the motion.
The debate consisted of three phases spread out over roughly 10 days. We each first stated our respective positions in our opening statements, followed a few days later by our rebuttals, and then finally our closing statements.  It was moderated by Ludwig Siegele, online business and finance editor at The Economist. Throughout the process, people were invited to vote on the motion, as well as to post their own comments.
The debate was inspired, I believe, by The Multiplexed Metropolis, an article Mr. Siegele published in the September 7 issue of The Economist which explored the impact of Big Data on cities. He wrote that the vast amounts of data generated by the many social interactions taking place in cities might lead to a kind of second electrification, transforming 21st century cities much as electricity did in the past. “Enthusiasts think that data services can change cities in this century as much as electricity did in the last one,” he noted. “They are a long way from proving their case.”
In my opening statement, I said that I strongly believe that digital technologies and the many data services they are enabling will make cities smarter and help transform them over time. My position is not surprising, given my affiliations with NYU’s Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP) and Imperial College’s Digital City Exchange, as well as my past involvements with IBM’s Smarter Cities and with Citigroup’s Citi for Cities initiatives. But, I totally understand why so many– almost half of those voting and quite a few who left comments–feel that smart cities are mostly hype. The case for smart cities is indeed far from proven.
Cities are the most complex social organisms created by humans. Just about every aspect of human endeavor is part of the mix of cities, and they all interact with each other leading to a highly dynamic system of systems. Moreover, each city has its own unique style and character. As is generally the case with transformative changes to highly complex systems, the evolution toward smart cities will likely take quite a bit longer than we anticipate, but the eventual impact will probably be more transformative than we can currently envision.
Electrification, for example, started in the U.S., Britain and other advanced nations around the 1880s and took decades to deploy and truly transform cities. The hype around smart cities that I worry the most about is underestimating their complexity and the amount of research, experimentation, and plain hard work that it will take to realize the promise. Smart cities projects are still in their very early stages. Some will work and some will fail. We have much to learn. Highly complex systems need time to evolve.
Commenting on the opening statements, Mr. Siegele noted: “Despite the motion being Are smart cities empty hype?, both sides have focused on whether these should be implemented top-down or bottom-up. Most will probably agree that digital technology can make cities smarter–meaning more liveable, more efficient, more sustainable and perhaps even more democratic.  But the big question is how to get there and how smart cities will be governed.”…

NESTA: 14 predictions for 2014

NESTA: “Every year, our team of in-house experts predicts what will be big over the next 12 months.
This year we set out our case for why 2014 will be the year we’re finally delivered the virtual reality experience we were promised two decades ago, the US will lose technological control of the Internet, communities will start crowdsourcing their own political representatives and we’ll be introduced to the concept of extreme volunteering – plus 10 more predictions spanning energy, tech, health, data, impact investment and social policy…
People powered data

The growing movement to take back control of personal data will reach a tipping point, says Geoff Mulgan
2014 will be the year when citizens start to take control over their own data. So far the public has accepted a dramatic increase in use of personal data because it doesn’t impinge much on freedom, and helps to give us a largely free internet.
But all of that could be about to change. Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations have fuelled a growing perception that the big social media firms are cavalier with personal data (a perception not helped by Facebook and Google’s recent moves to make tracking cookies less visible) and the Information Commissioner has described the data protection breaches of many internet firms, banks and others as ‘horrifying’.
According to some this doesn’t matter. Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems famously dismissed the problem: “you have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.” Mark Zuckerberg claims that young people no longer worry about making their lives transparent. We’re willing to be digital chattels so long as it doesn’t do us any visible harm.
That’s the picture now. But the past isn’t always a good guide to the future. More digitally savvy young people put a high premium on autonomy and control, and don’t like being the dupes of big organisations. We increasingly live with a digital aura alongside our physical identity – a mix of trails, data, pictures. We will increasingly want to shape and control that aura, and will pay a price if we don’t.
That’s why the movement for citizen control over data has gathered momentum. It’s 30 years since Germany enshrined ‘informational self-determination’ in the constitution and other countries are considering similar rules. Organisations like Mydex and Qiy now give users direct control over a store of their personal data, part of an emerging sector of Personal Data Stores, Privacy Dashboards and even ‘Life Management Platforms’. 
In the UK, the government-backed Midata programme is encouraging firms to migrate data back to public control, while the US has introduced green, yellow and blue buttons to simplify the option of taking back your data (in energy, education and the Veterans Administration respectively). Meanwhile a parallel movement encourages people to monetise their own data – so that, for example, Tesco or Experian would have to pay for the privilege of making money out of analysing your purchases and behaviours.
When people are shown what really happens to their data now they are shocked. That’s why we may be near a tipping point. A few more scandals could blow away any remaining complacency about the near future world of ubiquitous facial recognition software (Google Glasses and the like), a world where more people are likely to spy on their neighbours, lovers and colleagues.
The crowdsourced politician

This year we’ll see the rise of the crowdsourced independent parliamentary candidate, says Brenton Caffin
…In response, existing political institutions have sought to improve feedback between the governing and the governed through the tentative embrace of crowdsourcing methods, ranging from digital engagement strategies, open government challenges, to the recent stalled attempt to embrace open primaries by the Conservative Party (Iceland has been braver by designing its constitution by wiki). Though for many, these efforts are both too little and too late. The sense of frustration that no political party is listening to the real needs of people is probably part of the reason Russell Brand’s interview with Jeremy Paxman garnered nine million views in its first month on YouTube.
However a glimpse of an alternative approach may have arrived courtesy of the 2013 Australian Federal Election.
Tired of being taken for granted by the local MP, locals in the traditionally safe conservative seat of Indi embarked on a structured process of community ‘kitchen table’ conversations to articulate an independent account of the region’s needs. The community group, Voice for Indi, later nominated its chair, Cath McGowan, as an independent candidate. It crowdfunded their campaign finances and built a formidable army of volunteers through a sophisticated social media operation….
The rise of ‘extreme’ volunteering

By the end of 2014 the concept of volunteering will move away from the soup kitchen and become an integral part of how our communities operate, says Lindsay Levkoff Lynn
Extreme volunteering is about regular people going beyond the usual levels of volunteering. It is a deeper and more intensive form of volunteering, and I predict we will see more of these amazing commitments of ‘people helping people’ in the years to come.
Let me give you a few early examples of what we are already starting to see in the UK:

  • Giving a whole year of your life in service of kids. That’s what City Year volunteers do – Young people (18-25) dedicate a year, full-time, before university or work to support head teachers in turning around the behaviour and academics of some of the most underprivileged UK schools.
  • Giving a stranger a place to live and making them part of your family. That’s what Shared Lives Plus carers do. They ‘adopt’ an older person or a person with learning disabilities and offer them a place in their family. So instead of institutional care, families provide the full-time care – much like a ‘fostering for adults’ programme. Can you imagine inviting someone to come and live with you?…

Powering European public sector innovation – Towards a new architecture

Report of the expert group on public sector innovation: “The European Union faces an unprecedented crisis in economic growth, which has put public services under tremendous financial pressure. Many governments are also faced with long-term issues such as ageing societies, mounting social security and healthcare costs, high youth unemployment and a public service infrastructure that sometimes lags behind the needs of modern citizens and businesses. Under these conditions, innovation in public services is critical for the continued provision of such public services, in both quantity and quality. Public sector innovation can be defined as the process of generating new ideas, and implementing them to create value for society either through new or improved processes or services. The available evidence indicates that innovation in the public sector mostly happens randomly, rather than as a result of deliberate, systematic and strategic efforts. Innovation in the public sector, through strategic change, needs to become more ‘persistent’ and ‘cumulative’, in pursuit of a new and more collaborative governance model. There is a need for a new architecture for public sector innovation. Much can be done in individual Member States, regions and in local government to build capacity to innovate and to steer change processes. Innovation can emerge at all levels and innovation leadership can come from anyone. It is however the conviction of the expert group that the European institutions – including the Council of Ministers, the European Parliament, and the European Commission – can also play significant roles in fostering innovation both at European Union level and in individual Member States”

Ten thoughts for the future

The Economist: “CASSANDRA has decided to revisit her fellow forecasters Thomas Malnight and Tracey Keys to find out what their predictions are for 2014. Once again they have produced a collection of trends for the year ahead, in their “Global Trends Report”.
The possibilities of mind control seem alarming ( point 6) as do the  implications of growing income inequality (point 10). Cassandra also hopes that “unemployability” and “unemployerability”, as discussed in point 9, are contested next year (on both linguistic and social fronts).
Nevertheless, the forecasts make for intriguing reading and highlights appear below.
 1. From social everything to being smart socially
Social technologies are everywhere, but these vast repositories of digital “stuff” bury the exceptional among the unimportant. It’s time to get socially smart. Users are moving to niche networks to bring back the community feel and intelligence to social interactions. Businesses need to get smarter about extracting and delivering value from big data including challenging business models. For social networks, mobile is the great leveller. Competition for attention with other apps will intensify the battle to own key assets from identity to news sharing, demanding radical reinvention.
2. Information security: The genie is out of the bottle
Thought your information was safe? Think again. The information security genie is out of the bottle as cyber-surveillance and data mining by public and private organizations increases – and don’t forget criminal networks and whistleblowers. It will be increasingly hard to tell friend from foe in cyberspace as networks build artificial intelligence to decipher your emotions and smart cities track your every move. Big brother is here: Protecting identity, information and societies will be a priority for all.
3. Who needs shops anyway?
Retailers are facing a digitally driven perfect storm. Connectivity, rising consumer influence, time scarcity, mobile payments, and the internet of things, are changing where, when and how we shop – if smart machines have not already done the job. Add the sharing economy, driven by younger generations where experience and sustainable consumption are more important than ownership, and traditional retail models break down. The future of shops will be increasingly defined by experiential spaces offering personalized service, integrated online and offline value propositions, and pop-up stores to satisfy demands for immediacy and surprise.
4. Redistributing the industrial revolution
Complex, global value chains are being redistributed by new technologies, labour market shifts and connectivity. Small-scale manufacturing, including 3D and soon 4D printing, and shifting production economics are moving production closer to markets and enabling mass customization – not just by companies but by the tech-enabled maker movement which is going mainstream. Rising labour costs in developing markets, high unemployment in developed markets, global access to online talent and knowledge, plus advances in robotics mean reshoring of production to developed markets will increase. Mobility, flexibility and networks will define the future industrial landscape.
5. Hubonomics: The new face of globalization
As production and consumption become more distributed, hubs will characterize the next wave of “globalization.” They will specialize to support the needs of growing regional trade, emerging city states, on-line communities of choice, and the next generation of flexible workers and entrepreneurs. Underpinning these hubs will be global knowledge networks and new business and governance models based on hubonomics™, that leverage global assets and hub strengths to deliver local value.
6. Sci-Fi is here: Making the impossible possible
Cross-disciplinary approaches and visionary entrepreneurs are driving scientific breakthroughs that could change not just our lives and work but our bodies and intelligence. Labs worldwide are opening up the vast possibilities of mind control and artificial intelligence, shape-shifting materials and self-organizing nanobots, cyborgs and enhanced humans, space exploration, and high-speed, intelligent transportation. Expect great debate around the ethics, financing, and distribution of public and private benefits of these advances – and the challenge of translating breakthroughs into replicable benefits.
7. Growing pains: Transforming markets and generations
The BRICS are succumbing to Newton’s law of gravitation: Brazil’s lost it, India’s losing it, China’s paying the price for growth, Russia’s failing to make a superpower come-back, and South Africa’s economy is in disarray. In other developing markets currencies have tumbled, Arab Spring governments are still in turmoil and social unrest is increasing along with the number of failing states. But the BRICS & Beyond growth engine is far from dead. Rather it is experiencing growing pains which demand significant shifts in governance, financial systems, education and economic policies to catch up. The likely transformers will be younger generations who aspire to greater freedom and quality of life than their parents.
8. Panic versus denial: The resource gap grows, the global risks rise – but who is listening?
The complex nexus of food, water, energy and climate change presents huge global economic, environmental and societal challenges – heating up the battle to access new resources from the Arctic to fracking. Risks are growing, even as multilateral action stalls. It’s a crisis of morals, governance, and above all marketing and media, pitting crisis deniers against those who recognize the threats but are communicating panic versus reasoned solutions. Expect more debate and calls for responsible capitalism – those that are listening will be taking action at multiple levels in society and business.
9. Fighting unemployability and unemployerability
Companies are desperate for talented workers – yet unemployment rates remain high. Polarization towards higher and lower skill levels is squeezing mid-level jobs, even as employers complain that education systems are not preparing students for the jobs of the future. Fighting unemployability is driving new government-business partnerships worldwide, and will remain a critical issue given massive youth unemployment. Employers must also focus on organizational unemployerability – not being able to attract and retain desired talent – as new generations demand exciting and meaningful work where they can make an impact. If they can’t find it, they will quickly move on or swell the growing ranks of young entrepreneurs.
10. Surviving in a bipolar world: From expecting consistency to embracing ambiguity
Life is not fair, nor is it predictable.  Income inequality is growing. Intolerance and nationalism are rising but interdependence is the currency of a connected world. Pressure on leaders to deliver results today is intense but so too is the need for fundamental change to succeed in the long term. The contradictions of leadership and life are increasing faster than our ability to reconcile the often polarized perspectives and values each embodies. Increasingly, they are driving irrational acts of leadership (think the US debt ceiling), geopolitical, social and religious tensions, and individual acts of violence. Surviving in this world will demand stronger, responsible leadership comfortable with and capable of embracing ambiguity and uncertainty, as opposed to expecting consistency and predictability.”

Buenos Aires, A Pocket of Civic Innovation in Argentina

Rebecca Chao in TechPresident: “…In only a few years, the government, civil society and media in Buenos Aires have actively embraced open data. The Buenos Aires city government has been publishing data under a creative commons license and encouraging civic innovation through hackathons. NGOs have launched a number of tech-driven tools and Argentina’s second largest newspaper, La Nación, has published several hard-hitting data journalism projects. The result is a fledgling but flourishing open data culture in Buenos Aires, in a country that has not yet adopted a freedom of information law.

A Wikipedia for Open Government Data

In late August of this year, the Buenos Aires government declared a creative commons license for all of its digital content, which allows it be used for free, like Wikipedia content, with proper attribution. This applies to their new open data catalog that allows users to visualize the data, examine apps that have been created using the data and even includes a design lab for posting app ideas. Launched only in March, the government has already published fairly substantial data sets, including the salaries of city officials. The website also embodies the principals of openness in its design; it is built with open-source software and its code is available for reuse via GitHub.
“We were the first city in Argentina doing open government,” Rudi Borrmann tells techPresident over Skype. Borrmann is the Director of Buenos Aires’ Open Government Initiative. Previously, he was the social media editor at the city’s New Media Office but he also worked for many years in digital media…
While the civil society and media sectors have forged ahead in using open data, Borrmann tells techPresident that up in the ivory tower, openness to open data has been lagging. “Only technical schools are starting to create areas focused on working on open data,” he says.
In an interview with NYU’s govlab, Borrmann explained the significance of academia in using and pushing for more open data. “They have the means, the resources, the methodology to analyze…because in government you don’t have that time to analyze,” he said.
Another issue with open data is getting other branches of the government to modernize. Borrmann says that a lot of the Open Government’s work is done behind the scenes. “In general, you have very poor IT infrastructure all over Latin America” that interferes with the gathering and publishing of data, he says. “So in some cases it’s not about publishing or not publishing,” but about “having robust infrastructure for the information.”
It seems that the behind the scenes work is bearing some fruit. Just last week, on Dec. 6, the team behind the Buenos Aires open data website launched an impressive, interactive timeline, based on a similar timelapse map developed by a 2013 Knight-Mozilla Fellow, Noah Veltman. Against faded black and white photos depicting the subway from different decades over the last century, colorful pops of the Subterráneo lines emerge alongside factoids that go all the way back to 1910.”

20 Innovations that Mattered in 2013

New Guide from GovLoop: “The end of the year means two things: setting unrealistic New Year’s resolutions and endless retrospectives.  While we can’t force you to put down the cake and pick up a carrot, we can help you to do your job better by highlighting some of the biggest and best innovations to come out of government in the last 365 days.
The past year brought us the Interior Department’s Instagram feed and Colorado’s redesigned website. It also brought us St. Louis’ optimized data analytics that make their city safer and North Carolina’s iCenter that adopted a “try before you buy” policy.
All of these new technologies and tactics saved time and resources, critical outcomes in the current government landscape where budget cuts are making each new purchase risky.
But these were not the only buzzworthy projects for government technology in 2013. In this end-of-year issue, GovLoop analyzed the 20 best innovations in government in four different categories:

  • Mobile Apps Movers and Shakers?
  • Big Data Dynamos
  • Social Media Mavericks
  •  Website Wonders

We also asked two of the most innovative Chief Information Officers in the country to don some Google Glass’ In a year where the government shutdown and sequestration brought progress to a screeching halt, many agencies were able to rise above the inauspicious environment and produce groundbreaking and innovative programs.
For instance, when the horrible bombings brought terror to the finish line of the Boston Marathon, the local police department sprang into action. They immediately mobilized their forces on the ground. But then they did something else, too. The Boston Police Department took to Twitter. The social media team was informative, timely and, accurate. The BPD flipped the script on emergency media management. They innovated in a time of crisis and got people the information they needed in a timely and appropriate manner.
We know that oftentimes it is hard to see through the budget cuts and government shutdowns, but government innovation is all around us. Our goal with this guide is to showcase programs that are not only making a difference but demonstrate risk and reward….”

Selected Readings on Crowdsourcing Data

The Living Library’s Selected Readings series seeks to build a knowledge base on innovative approaches for improving the effectiveness and legitimacy of governance. This curated and annotated collection of recommended works on the topic of crowdsourcing data was originally published in 2013.

As institutions seek to improve decision-making through data and put public data to use to improve the lives of citizens, new tools and projects are allowing citizens to play a role in both the collection and utilization of data. Participatory sensing and other citizen data collection initiatives, notably in the realm of disaster response, are allowing citizens to crowdsource important data, often using smartphones, that would be either impossible or burdensomely time-consuming for institutions to collect themselves. Civic hacking, often performed in hackathon events, on the other hand, is a growing trend in which governments encourage citizens to transform data from government and other sources into useful tools to benefit the public good.

Selected Reading List (in alphabetical order)

Annotated Selected Reading List (in alphabetical order)

Baraniuk, Chris. “Power Politechs.” New Scientist 218, no. 2923 (June 29, 2013): 36–39.

  • In this article, Baraniuk discusses civic hackers, “an army of volunteer coders who are challenging preconceptions about hacking and changing the way your government operates. In a time of plummeting budgets and efficiency drives, those in power have realised they needn’t always rely on slow-moving, expensive outsourcing and development to improve public services. Instead, they can consider running a hackathon, at which tech-savvy members of the public come together to create apps and other digital tools that promise to enhace the provision of healthcare, schools or policing.”
  • While recognizing that “civic hacking has established a pedigree that demonstrates its potential for positive impact,” Baraniuk argues that a “more rigorous debate over how this activity should evolve, or how authorities ought to engage in it” is needed.

Barnett, Brandon, Muki Hansteen Izora, and Jose Sia. “Civic Hackathon Challenges Design Principles: Making Data Relevant and Useful for Individuals and Communities.” Hack for Change,

  • In this paper, researchers from Intel Labs offer “guiding principles to support the efforts of local civic hackathon organizers and participants as they seek to design actionable challenges and build useful solutions that will positively benefit their communities.”
  • The authors proposed design principles are:
    • Focus on the specific needs and concerns of people or institutions in the local community. Solve their problems and challenges by combining different kinds of data.
    • Seek out data far and wide (local, municipal, state, institutional, non-profits, companies) that is relevant to the concern or problem you are trying to solve.
    • Keep it simple! This can’t be overstated. Focus [on] making data easily understood and useful to those who will use your application or service.
    • Enable users to collaborate and form new communities and alliances around data.

Buhrmester, Michael, Tracy Kwang, and Samuel D. Gosling. “Amazon’s Mechanical Turk A New Source of Inexpensive, Yet High-Quality, Data?” Perspectives on Psychological Science 6, no. 1 (January 1, 2011): 3–5.

  • This article examines the capability of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to act a source of data for researchers, in addition to its traditional role as a microtasking platform.
  • The authors examine the demographics of MTurkers and find that “MTurk participants are slightly more demographically diverse than are standard Internet samples and are significantly more diverse than typical American college samples; (b) participation is affected by compensation rate and task length, but participants can still be recruited rapidly and inexpensively; (c) realistic compensation rates do not affect data quality; and (d) the data obtained are at least as reliable as those obtained via traditional methods.”
  • The paper concludes that, just as MTurk can be a strong tool for crowdsourcing tasks, data derived from MTurk can be high quality while also being inexpensive and obtained rapidly.

Goodchild, Michael F., and J. Alan Glennon. “Crowdsourcing Geographic Information for Disaster Response: a Research Frontier.” International Journal of Digital Earth 3, no. 3 (2010): 231–241.

  • This article examines issues of data quality in the face of the new phenomenon of geographic information being generated by citizens, in order to examine whether this data can play a role in emergency management.
  • The authors argue that “[d]ata quality is a major concern, since volunteered information is asserted and carries none of the assurances that lead to trust in officially created data.”
  • Due to the fact that time is crucial during emergencies, the authors argue that, “the risks associated with volunteered information are often outweighed by the benefits of its use.”
  • The paper examines four wildfires in Santa Barbara in 2007-2009 to discuss current challenges with volunteered geographical data, and concludes that further research is required to answer how volunteer citizens can be used to provide effective assistance to emergency managers and responders.

Hudson-Smith, Andrew, Michael Batty, Andrew Crooks, and Richard Milton. “Mapping for the Masses Accessing Web 2.0 Through Crowdsourcing.” Social Science Computer Review 27, no. 4 (November 1, 2009): 524–538.

  • This article describes the way in which “we are harnessing the power of web 2.0 technologies to create new approaches to collecting, mapping, and sharing geocoded data.”
  • The authors examine GMapCreator and MapTube, which allow users to do a range of map-related functions such as create new maps, archive existing maps, and share or produce bottom-up maps through crowdsourcing.
  • They conclude that “these tools are helping to define a neogeography that is essentially ‘mapping for the masses,’ while noting that there are many issues of quality, accuracy, copyright, and trust that will influence the impact of these tools on map-based communication.”

Kanhere, Salil S. “Participatory Sensing: Crowdsourcing Data from Mobile Smartphones in Urban Spaces.” In Distributed Computing and Internet Technology, edited by Chittaranjan Hota and Pradip K. Srimani, 19–26. Lecture Notes in Computer Science 7753. Springer Berlin Heidelberg. 2013.

  • This paper provides a comprehensive overview of participatory sensing — a “new paradigm for monitoring the urban landscape” in which “ordinary citizens can collect multi-modal data streams from the surrounding environment using their mobile devices and share the same using existing communications infrastructure.”
  • In addition to examining a number of innovative applications of participatory sensing, Kanhere outlines the following key research challenges:
    • Dealing with incomplete samples
    •  Inferring user context
    • Protecting user privacy
    • Evaluating data trustworthiness
    • Conserving energy

Government's Crowdsourcing Revolution

John M. Kamensky  in Governing: “In a recent report for the IBM Center for the Business of Government, Brabham says that an important distinction between crowdsourcing and other forms of online participation is that crowdsourcing “entails a mix of top-down, traditional, hierarchical process and a bottom-up, open process involving an online community.”
Crowdsourcing in the public sector can be done within government, among employees as a way to surface ideas — such as the New York City government’s “Simplicity” initiative — or it can be done by nonprofit groups in ways that influence government operations. For example, a transportation advocacy group in New York City has created a site where citizens can report “near miss” accidents, which are then mapped to determine patterns. The idea is that, while the city government already maps accidents that have happened, hazardous traffic zones can be detected and resolved faster by mapping near-misses without waiting for a large number of actual accidents.
Brabham offers a strategic view of crowdsourcing and when it is useful to address public problems. His report also identifies four specific approaches, describing which is most useful for a given category of problem:
Knowledge discovery and management. This approach is best for information-gathering and cataloguing problems through an online community, such as the reporting of earth tremors or potholes to a central source. This approach could also be used to report conditions of parks or hiking trails or for cataloging public art projects as have been done in several cities across the country.
Distributed human-intelligence tasking: This approach is most useful when human intelligence is more effective than computer analysis. It involves distributing “micro-tasks” that require human intelligence to solve, such as transcribing handwritten historical documents into electronic files. For example, when the handwritten 1940 census records were publicly released in 2012, the National Archives catalyzed the electronic tagging of more than 130 million records so they could be searchable online. More than 150,000 people volunteered.
Broadcast search: This approach is most useful when an agency is attempting to find creative solutions to problems. It involves broadcasting a problem-solving challenge widely on the Internet and offering an award for the best solution. NASA, for example, offered a prize for an algorithm to predict solar flares. The federal government sponsors a contest and awards Web platform,, that various federal agencies can use to post their challenges. To date, hundreds of diverse challenges have been posted, with thousands of people proposing solutions.
Peer-vetted creative production: This approach is most useful when an agency is looking for innovative ideas that must meet a test of taste or market support. It involves an online community that both proposes possible solutions and is empowered to collectively choose among them. For example, the Utah Transit Authority sponsored the Next Stop Design project, allowing citizens to design and vote on an ideal bus-stop shelter. Nearly 3,200 people participated, submitting 260 high-quality architectural renderings, and there were more than 10,000 votes leading to a final selection….”

Public Open Sensor Data: Revolutionizing Smart Cities

New Paper in Technology and Society Magazine, IEEE (Volume: 32,  Issue: 4): “Local governments have decided to take advantage of the presence of wireless sensor networks (WSNs) in their cities to efficiently manage several applications in their daily responsibilities. The enormous amount of information collected by sensor devices allows the automation of several real-time services to improve city management by using intelligent traffic-light patterns during rush hour, reducing water consumption in parks, or efficiently routing garbage collection trucks throughout the city [1]. The sensor information required by these examples is mostly self-consumed by city-designed applications and managers.”