Selected Readings on Data Visualization

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 data visualization was originally published in 2013.

Data visualization is a response to the ever-increasing amount of  information in the world. With big data, informatics and predictive analytics, we have an unprecedented opportunity to revolutionize policy-making. Yet data by itself can be overwhelming. New tools and techniques for visualizing information can help policymakers clearly articulate insights drawn from data. Moreover, the rise of open data is enabling those outside of government to create informative and visually arresting representations of public information that can be used to support decision-making by those inside or outside governing institutions.

Selected Reading List (in alphabetical order)

Annotated Selected Reading List (in alphabetical order)

Duke, D.J., K.W. Brodlie, D.A. Duce and I. Herman. “Do You See What I Mean? [Data Visualization].” IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications 25, no. 3 (2005): 6–9.

  • In this paper, the authors argue that a more systematic ontology for data visualization to ensure the successful communication of meaning. “Visualization begins when someone has data that they wish to explore and interpret; the data are encoded as input to a visualization system, which may in its turn interact with other systems to produce a representation. This is communicated back to the user(s), who have to assess this against their goals and knowledge, possibly leading to further cycles of activity. Each phase of this process involves communication between two parties. For this to succeed, those parties must share a common language with an agreed meaning.”
  • That authors “believe that now is the right time to consider an ontology for visualization,” and “as visualization move from just a private enterprise involving data and tools owned by a research team into a public activity using shared data repositories, computational grids, and distributed collaboration…[m]eaning becomes a shared responsibility and resource. Through the Semantic Web, there is both the means and motivation to develop a shared picture of what we see when we turn and look within our own field.”

Friendly, Michael. “A Brief History of Data Visualization.” In Handbook of Data Visualization, 15–56. Springer Handbooks Comp.Statistics. Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2008.

  • In this paper, Friendly explores the “deep roots” of modern data visualization. “These roots reach into the histories of the earliest map making and visual depiction, and later into thematic cartography, statistics and statistical graphics, medicine and other fields. Along the way, developments in technologies (printing, reproduction), mathematical theory and practice, and empirical observation and recording enabled the wider use of graphics and new advances in form and content.”
  • Just as the general the visualization of data is far from a new practice, Friendly shows that the graphical representation of government information has a similarly long history. “The collection, organization and dissemination of official government statistics on population, trade and commerce, social, moral and political issues became widespread in most of the countries of Europe from about 1825 to 1870. Reports containing data graphics were published with some regularity in France, Germany, Hungary and Finland, and with tabular displays in Sweden, Holland, Italy and elsewhere.”

Graves, Alvaro and James Hendler. “Visualization Tools for Open Government Data.” In Proceedings of the 14th Annual International Conference on Digital Government Research, 136–145. Dg.o ’13. New York, NY, USA: ACM, 2013.

  • In this paper, the authors argue that, “there is a gap between current Open Data initiatives and an important part of the stakeholders of the Open Government Data Ecosystem.” As it stands, “there is an important portion of the population who could benefit from the use of OGD but who cannot do so because they cannot perform the essential operations needed to collect, process, merge, and make sense of the data. The reasons behind these problems are multiple, the most critical one being a fundamental lack of expertise and technical knowledge. We propose the use of visualizations to alleviate this situation. Visualizations provide a simple mechanism to understand and communicate large amounts of data.”
  • The authors also describe a prototype of a tool to create visualizations based on OGD with the following capabilities:
    • Facilitate visualization creation
    • Exploratory mechanisms
    • Viralization and sharing
    • Repurpose of visualizations

Hidalgo, César A. “Graphical Statistical Methods for the Representation of the Human Development Index and Its Components.” United Nations Development Programme Human Development Reports, September 2010.

  • In this paper for the United Nations Human Development Programme, Hidalgo argues that “graphical statistical methods could be used to help communicate complex data and concepts through universal cognitive channels that are heretofore underused in the development literature.”
  • To support his argument, representations are provided that “show how graphical methods can be used to (i) compare changes in the level of development experienced by countries (ii) make it easier to understand how these changes are tied to each one of the components of the Human Development Index (iii) understand the evolution of the distribution of countries according to HDI and its components and (iv) teach and create awareness about human development by using iconographic representations that can be used to graphically narrate the story of countries and regions.”

Stowers, Genie. “The Use of Data Visualization in Government.” IBM Center for The Business of Government, Using Technology Series, 2013.

  • This report seeks “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.”
  • Stowers also offers 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.”

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”

The Impact of Innovation Inducement Prizes

From the Compendium of Evidence on Innovation Policy/NESTA: “Innovation inducement prizes are one of the oldest types of innovation policy measure.  The popularity of innovation inducement prizes has gradually decreased during the early 20th century. However, innovation inducement prizes have regained some of their popularity since the 1990s with new prizes awarded by the US X Prize Foundation and with the current USA Administration’s efforts to use them in various government departments as an innovation policy instrument. Innovation Prizes are also becoming an important innovation policy instrument in the UK.  A recent report by McKinsey & Company (2009) estimates the value of prizes awarded to be between £600 million and £1.2million. Despite the growing popularity of innovation inducement prizes, the impact of this innovation policy measure is still not understood. This report brings together the existing evidence on the effects of innovation inducement prizes by drawing on a number of ex-ante and ex-post evaluations as well as limited academic literature. This report focuses on ex-ante innovation inducement prizes where the aim is to induce investment or attention to a specific goal or technology. This report does not discuss the impact of ex-post recognition prizes where the prize is given as a recognition after the intended outcome happens (e.g. Nobel Prize).
Innovation inducement prizes have a wide range of rationales and there is no agreed on dominant rationale in the literature. Traditionally, prizes have been seen as an innovation policy instrument that can overcome market failure by creating an incentive for the development of a particular technology or technology application. A second rationale is that the implementation demonstration projects in which not only creation of a specific technology is intended but also demonstration of the feasible application of this technology is targeted. A third rationale is related to the creation of a technology that will later be put in the public domain to attract subsequent research. Prizes are also increasingly organised for community and leadership building. As prizes probably allow more flexibility than most of the other innovation policy instruments, there is a large number of different prize characteristics and thus a vast number of prize typologies based on these characteristics.
Evidence on the effectiveness of prizes is scarce. There are only a few evaluations or academic works that deal with the creation of innovation output and even those which deal with the innovation output only rarely deals with the additionality. Only a very limited number of studies looked at if innovation inducement prizes led to more innovation itself or innovation outputs. As well as developing the particular technology that the innovation inducement prizes produce, they create prestige for both the prize sponsor and entrants. Prizes might also increase the public and sectoral awareness on specific technology issues. A related issue to the prestige gained from the prizes is the motivations of participants as a conditioning factor for innovation performance. Design issues are the main concern of the prizes literature. This reflects the importance of a careful design for the achievement of desired effects (and the limitation of undesired effects). There are a relatively large number of studies that investigated the influence of the design of prize objective on the innovation performance. A number of studies points out that sometimes prizes should be accompanied with or followed by other demand side initiatives to fulfil their objectives, mostly on the basis of ex-ante evaluations. Finally, prizes are also seen as a valuable opportunity for experimentation in innovation policy.
It is evident from the literature we analysed that the evidence on the impact of innovation inducement prizes is scarce. There is also a consensus that innovation inducement prizes are not a substitute for other innovation policy measures but are complementary under certain conditions. Prizes can be effective in creating innovation through more intense competition, engagement of wide variety of actors, distributing risks to many participants and by exploiting more flexible solutions through a less prescriptive nature of the definition of the problem in prizes. They can overcome some of the inherent barriers to other instruments, but if prizes are poorly designed, managed and awarded, they may be ineffective or even harmful.”

Building tech-powered public services

New publication by Sarah Bickerstaffe from IPPR (UK): “Given the rapid pace of technological change and take-up by the public, it is a question of when not if public services become ‘tech-powered’. This new paper asks how we can ensure that innovations are successfully introduced and deployed.
Can technology improve the experience of people using public services, or does it simply mean job losses and a depersonalised offer to users?
Could tech-powered public services be an affordable, sustainable solution to some of the challenges of these times of austerity?
This report looks at 20 case studies of digital innovation in public services, using these examples to explore the impact of new and disruptive technologies. It considers how tech-powered public services can be delivered, focusing on the area of health and social care in particular.
We identify three key benefits of increasing the role of technology in public services: saving time, boosting user participation, and encouraging users to take responsibility for their own wellbeing.
In terms of how to successfully implement technological innovations in public services, five particular lessons stood out clearly and consistently:

  1. User-based iterative design is critical to delivering a product that solves real-world problems. It builds trust and ensures the technology works in the context in which it will be used.
  2. Public sector expertise is essential in order for a project to make the connections necessary to initial development and early funding.
  3. Access to seed and bridge funding is necessary to get projects off the ground and allow them to scale up.
  4. Strong leadership from within the public sector is crucial to overcoming the resistance that practitioners and managers often show initially.
  5. A strong business case that sets out the quality improvements and cost savings that the innovation can deliver is important to get attention and interest from public services.

The seven headline case studies in this report are:

  • Patchwork creates an elegant solution to join up professionals working with troubled families, in an effort to ensure that frontline support is truly coordinated.
  • Casserole Club links people who like cooking with their neighbours who are in need of a hot meal, employing the simplest possible technology to grow social connections.
  • ADL Smartcare uses a facilitated assessment tool to make professional expertise accessible to staff and service users without years of training, meaning they can carry out assessments together, engaging people in their own care and freeing up occupational therapists to focus where they are needed.
  • Mental Elf makes leading research in mental health freely available via social media, providing accessible summaries to practitioners and patients who would not otherwise have the time or ability to read journal articles, which are often hidden behind a paywall.
  • Patient Opinion provides an online platform for people to give feedback on the care they have received and for healthcare professionals and providers to respond, disrupting the typical complaints process and empowering patients and their families.
  • The Digital Pen and form system has saved the pilot hospital trust three minutes per patient by avoiding the need for manual data entry, freeing up clinical and administrative staff for other tasks.
  • Woodland Wiggle allows children in hospital to enter a magical woodland world through a giant TV screen, where they can have fun, socialise, and do their physiotherapy.”

Why government health departments are spending millions on mobile gaming

James Trew in Engadget : “Today sees the release of The Walk, an iOS and Android game backed by the UK’s Department of Health. It’s the second release in a collection of apps funded as part of the UK’s Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI). The first — StepJockey, an app that lets you map, locate, rate and log the calorific expenditure of staircases around your city — came out on Monday. All five apps in the program encourage you to move more, or change negative habits. Can an app improve your life? At the very least, we’re guessing the Department of Health — having just spent £2 million on this round of investment — thinks so. This is part of a growing trend, that could see government agencies in the UK taking a leaf out of Silicon Valley’s book when it comes to solving (health) problems. Read past the break to find out why it’s putting so much money on third-party digital initiatives.
Your mission is simple, ensure safe transit of a package from Inverness, to Edinburgh — and in the process save the world. Only one problem: a terrorist attack has rendered all motorised transport unusable — you’ll have to go on foot. That’s the premise behind The Walk. The concept isn’t complicated — encourage players to preambulate in the real world as part of an apocalyptic game narrative. Your phone’s accelerometer tracks your movements, unlocking levels and hours of story-telling audio which drive the plot along. Simple, fun, effective. The game’s predecessor (Zombies, Run!) uses similar mechanics, and currently encourages over 750,000 would-be Shauns (or Eds) to escape pursuing Zombies whenever they go for a jog. By lowering the requirement to walking, it’s hoped almost everyone can benefit this time. The focus is on increasing general daily movement, rather than dedicated, prescribed and sometimes prohibitive training routines.
There’s no question the theory is simple: apps that encourage activity, or responsible drinking, could cut down on healthcare requirements through prevention, negating the need for cure. In turn, it could also take a bite out of the estimated £8 billion that obesity and alcohol related diseases cost the UK’s health service each year. More interesting, is that the Department of Health is funding external mobile start-ups and indie developers at all. We asked it why, and were told it’s just as much about nurturing innovative ideas (where they can compete with more conventional fitness apps such as Nike+, MapMyFitness and Adidas miCoach) as it is about encouraging lifestyle change.

The motivation might initially be the potential (and hard to quantify) savings through a healthier public. But using apps to achieve this is an idea the US government is curious about also. ..”

Data isn't a four-letter word

Speech by Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda: “I want to talk about data too: the opportunity as well as the threat.
Making data the engine of the European economy: safeguarding fundamental rights capturing the data boost, and strengthening our defences.
Data is at a cross-roads. We have opportunities; open data, big data, datamining, cloud computing. Tim Berners Lee, creator of the world wide web, saw the massive potential of open data. As he put it, if you put that data online, it will be used by other people to do wonderful things, in ways that you could never imagine.
On the other hand, we have threats: to our privacy and our values, and to the openness that makes it possible to innovate, trade and exchange.
Get it right and we can safeguard a better economic future. Get it wrong, and we cut competitiveness without protecting privacy. So we remain dependent on the digital developments of others: and just as vulnerable to them.
How do we find that balance? Not with hysteria; nor by paralysis. Not by stopping the wonderful things, simply to prevent the not-so-wonderful. Not by seeing data as a dirty word.
We are seeing a whole economy develop around data and cloud computing. Businesses using them, whole industries depending on them, data volumes are increasing exponentially. Data is not just an economic sideshow, it is a whole new asset class; requiring new skills and creating new jobs.
And with a huge range of applications. From decoding human genes to predicting the traffic, and even the economy. Whatever you’re doing these days, chances are you’re using big data (like translation, search, apps, etc).
There is increasing recognition of the data boost on offer. For example, open data can make public administrations more transparent and stimulate a rich innovative market. That is what the G8 Leaders recognised in June, with their Open Data Charter. For scientists too, open data and open access offer new ways to research and progress.
That is a philosophy the Commission has shared for some time. And that is what our ‘Open Data’ package of December 2011 is all about. With new EU laws to open up public administrations, and a new EU Open Data Portal. And all EU-funded scientific publications available under open access.
Now not just the G8 and the Commission are seeing this data opportunity: but the European Council too. Last October, they recognised the potential of big data innovation, the need for a single market in cloud computing; and the urgency of Europe capitalising on both.
We will be acting on that. Next spring, I plan a strategic agenda for research on data. Working with private partners and national research funders to shape that agenda, and get the most bang for our research euro.
And, beyond research, there is much we can do to align our work and support secure big data. From training skilled workers, to modernising copyright for data and text mining, to different actors in the value chain working together: for example through a public-private partnership.
…Empowering people is not always easy in this complex online world. I want to see technical solutions emerge that can do that, give users control over their desired level of privacy, how their data will be used, and making it easier to verify online rights are respected.
How can we do that? How can we ensure systems that are empowering, transparent, and secure? There are a number of subtleties in play. Here’s my take.
First, companies engaged in big data will need to start thinking about privacy protection at every stage: and from system development, to procedures and practices.
This is the principle of “privacy by design”, set out clearly in the proposed Data Protection Regulation. In other words, from now on new business ideas have two purposes: delivering a service and protecting privacy at the right level.
Second, also under the regulation, big data applications that might put fundamental rights at risk would require the company to carry out a “Privacy Impact Assessment”. This is another good way to combine innovation and privacy: ensuring you think about any risks from the start.
Third, sometimes, particularly for personal data, a company might realise they need user consent. Consent is a cornerstone of data protection rules, and should stay that way.
But we need to get smart, and apply common sense to consent. Users can’t be expected to know everything. Nor asked to consent to what they cannot realistically understand. Nor presented with false dilemmas, a black-and-white choice between consenting or getting shut out of services.
Fourth, we can also get smart when it comes to anonymisation. Sometimes, full anonymisation means losing important information, so you can no longer make the links between data. That could make the difference between progress or paralysis. But using pseudonyms can let you to analyse large amounts of data: to spot, for example, that people with genetic pattern X also respond well to therapy Y.
So it is understandable why the European Parliament has proposed a more flexible data protection regime for this type of data. Companies would be able to process the data on grounds of legitimate interest, rather than consent. That could make all the positive difference to big data: without endangering privacy.
Of course, in those cases, companies still to minimise privacy risks. Their internal processes and risk assessments must show how they comply with the guiding principles of data protection law. And – if something does go wrong – the company remains accountable.
Indeed company accountability is another key element of our proposal. And here again we welcome the European Parliament’s efforts to reinforce that. Clearly, you might assure accountability in different ways for different companies. But standards for compliance and processes could make a real difference.
A single data protection law for Europe would be a big step forward. National fortresses and single market barriers just make it harder for Europe to lead in digital, harder for Europe to become the natural home of secure online services. Data protection cannot mean data protectionism. Rather, it means safeguarding privacy does not come at the expense of innovation: with laws both flexible and future proof, pragmatic and proportionate, for a changing world….
But data protection rules are really just the start. They are only part of our response to the Snowden revelations….”

Phone Apps Help Government, Others Counter Violence Against Women

NextGov: “Smart and mobile phones have helped authorities solve crimes from beatings that occurred during the London riots to the Boston Marathon bombing. A panel of experts gathered on Monday said the devices can also help reduce and combat rapes and other gender-based violence.
Smartphone apps and text messaging services proliferated in India following a sharp rise in reported gang rapes, including the brutal 2012 rape and murder of a 23-year-old medical student in Delhi, according to panelists at the Wilson Center event on gender-based violence and innovative technologies.
The apps fall into four main categories, said Alex Dehgan, chief data scientist at the United States Agency for International Development: apps that aid sexual assault and domestic violence victims, apps that empower women to fight back against gender-based violence, apps focused on advocacy and apps that crowdsource and map cases of sexual assault.
The final category of apps is largely built on the Ushahidi platform, which was developed to track reports of missing people following the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
One of the apps, Safecity, offers real-time alerts about sexual assaults across India to help women identify unsafe areas.
Similar apps have been launched in Egypt and Syria, Dehgan said. In lower-tech countries the systems often operate using text messages rather than smartphone apps so they’re more widely accessible.
One of the greatest impediments to using mobile technology to reduce gender violence is third world nations in which women often don’t have access to their own mobile or smartphones and rural areas in the U.S. and abroad in which there is limited service or broadband, Christopher Burns, USAID’s team leader for mobile access, said.
Burns suggested international policymakers should align plans for expanding broadband and mobile service with crowdsourced reports of gender violence.
“One suggestion for policy makers to focus on is to take a look at the crowd maps we’ve talked about today and see where there are greater incidences of gender-based violence and violence against women,” he said. “In all likelihood, those pockets probably don’t have the connectivity, don’t have the infrastructure [and] don’t have the capacity in place for survivors to benefit from those tools.”
One tool that’s been used in the U.S. is Circle of 6, an app for women on college campuses to automatically draw on friends when they think they’re in danger. The app allows women to pick six friends they can automatically text if they think they’re in a dangerous situation, asking them to call with an excuse for them to leave.
The app is designed to look like a game so it isn’t clear women are using their phones to seek help, said Nancy Schwartzman, executive director of Tech 4 Good, which developed the app.
Schwartzman has heard reports of gay men on college campuses using the app as well, she said. The military has been in contact with Tech 4 Good about developing a version of the app to combat sexual assault on military bases, she said.”

We must create a culture of “open data makers”

Rufus Pollock (@rufuspollock), Founder and Director of the Open Knowledge Foundation: “Open data and open knowledge are fundamentally about empowerment, about giving people – citizens, journalists, NGOs, companies and policy-makers – access to the information they need to understand and shape the world around them.

Through openness, we can ensure that technology and data improve science, governance, and society. Without it, we may see the increasing centralisation of knowledge – and therefore power – in the hands of the few, and a huge loss in our potential, individually and collectively, to innovate, understand, and improve the world around us.

Open data is data that can be freely accessed, used, built upon and shared by anyone, for any purpose. With digital technology – from mobiles to the internet – increasingly everywhere, we’re seeing a data revolution. Its a revolution both in the amount of data available and in our ability to use, and share, that data. And it’s changing everything we do – from how we travel home from work to how scientists do research, to how government set policy….

its about people, the people who use data, and the people who use the insights from that data to drive change. We need to create a culture of “open data makers”, people able and ready to make apps and insights with open data. We need to connect open data with those who have the best questions and the biggest needs – a healthcare worker in Zambia, the London commuter travelling home – and go beyond the data geeks and the tech savvy.”

The Age of Democracy

Xavier Marquez at Abandoned Footnotes: “This is the age of democracy, ideologically speaking. As I noted in an earlier post, almost every state in the world mentions the word “democracy” or “democratic” in its constitutional documents today. But the public acknowledgment of the idea of democracy is not something that began just a few years ago; in fact, it goes back much further, all the way back to the nineteenth century in a surprising number of cases.
Here is a figure I’ve been wanting to make for a while that makes this point nicely (based on data graciously made available by the Comparative Constitutions Project). The figure shows all countries that have ever had some kind of identifiable constitutional document (broadly defined) that mentions the word “democracy” or “democratic” (in any context – new constitution, amendment, interim constitution, bill of rights, etc.), arranged from earliest to latest mention. Each symbol represents a “constitutional event” – a new constitution adopted, an amendment passed, a constitution suspended, etc. – and colored symbols indicate that the text associated with the constitutional event in question mentions the word “democracy” or “democratic”…
The earliest mentions of the word “democracy” or “democratic” in a constitutional document occurred in Switzerland and France in 1848, as far as I can tell.[1] Participatory Switzerland and revolutionary France look like obvious candidates for being the first countries to embrace the “democratic” self-description; yet the next set of countries to embrace this self-description (until the outbreak of WWI) might seem more surprising: they are all Latin American or Caribbean (Haiti), followed by countries in Eastern Europe (various bits and pieces of the Austro-Hungarian empire), Southern Europe (Portugal, Spain), Russia, and Cuba. Indeed, most “core” countries in the global system did not mention democracy in their constitutions until much later, if at all, despite many of them having long constitutional histories; even French constitutions after the fall of the Second Republic in 1851 did not mention “democracy” until after WWII. In other words, the idea of democracy as a value to be publicly affirmed seems to have caught on first not in the metropolis but in the periphery. Democracy is the post-imperial and post-revolutionary public value par excellence, asserted after national liberation (as in most of the countries that became independent after WWII) or revolutions against hated monarchs (e.g., Egypt 1956, Iran 1979, both of them the first mentions of democracy in these countries but not their first constitutions).

Today only 16 countries have ever failed to mention their “democratic” character in their constitutional documents (Australia, Brunei, Denmark, Japan, Jordan, Malaysia, Monaco, Nauru, Oman, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Tonga, the United Kingdom, the USA, and Vatican City).[2] And no country that has ever mentioned “democracy” in an earlier constitutional document fails to mention it in its current constitutional documents (though some countries in the 19th and early 20th centuries went back and forth – mentioning democracy in one constitution, not mentioning it in the next). Indeed, after WWII the first mention of democracy in constitutions tended to be contemporaneous with the first post-independence constitution of the country; and with time, even countries with old and settled constitutional traditions seem to be more and more likely to mention “democracy” or “democratic” in some form as amendments or bills of rights accumulate (e.g., Belgium in 2013, New Zealand in 1990, Canada in 1982, Finland in 1995). The probability of a new constitution mentioning “democracy” appears to be asymptotically approaching 1. To use the language of biology, the democratic “meme” has nearly achieved “fixation” in the population, despite short-term fluctuations, and despite the fact that there appears to be no particular correlation between a state calling itself democratic and actually being democratic, either today or in the past.[3]
Though the actual measured level of democracy around the world has trended upwards (with some ups and downs) over the last two centuries, I don’t think this is the reason why the idea of democracy has achieved near-universal recognition in public documents. Countries do not first become democratic and then call themselves democracies; if anything, most mentions of democracy seem to be rather aspirational, if not entirely cynical. (Though many constitutions that mention democracy were also produced by people who seem to have been genuinely committed to some such ideal, even if the regimes that eventually developed under these constitutions were not particularly democratic). What we see, instead, is a broad process in which earlier normative claims about the basis of authority – monarchical, imperial, etc. – get almost completely replaced, regardless of the country’s cultural context, by democratic claims, regardless of the latter’s effectiveness as an actual basis for authority or the existence of working mechanisms for participation or vertical accountability. (These democratic claims to authority also sometimes coexist in uneasy tension with other claims to authority based on divine revelation, ideological knowledge, or tradition, invented or otherwise; consider the Chinese constitution‘s claims about the “people’s democratic dictatorship” led by the CCP).
I thus suspect the conquest of ideological space by “democratic” language did not happen just because democratic claims to authority (especially in the absence of actual democracy) have proved more persuasive than other claims to authority. Rather, I think the same processes that resulted in the emergence of modern national communities – e.g. the rituals associated with nationalism, which tended to “sacralize” a particular kind of imagined community – led to the symbolic production of the nation not only as the proper object of government but also as its proper active agent (the people, actively ruling itself), regardless of whether or not “the people” had any ability to rule or even to exercise minimal control over the rulers.[4] There thus seems to have been a kind of co-evolution of symbols of nationality and symbols of democracy, helped along by the practice/ritual of drafting constitutions and approving them through plebiscites or other forms of mass politics, a ritual that already makes democratic assumptions about “social contracts.” The question is whether the symbolic politics of democracy eventually has any sort of impact on actual institutions. But more on this later….”