Choose Your Own Route on Finland's Algorithm-Driven Public Bus


Brian Merchant at Motherboard: “Technology should probably be transforming public transit a lot faster than it is. Yes, apps like Hopstop have made finding stops easier and I’ve started riding the bus in unfamiliar parts of town a bit more often thanks to Google Maps’ route info. But these are relatively small steps, and it’s all limited to making scheduling information more widely available. Where’s the innovation on the other side? Where’s the Uber-like interactivity, the bus that comes to you after a tap on the iPhone?
In Finland, actually. The Kutsuplus is Helsinki’s groundbreaking mass transit hybrid program that lets riders choose their own routes, pay for fares on their phones, and summon their own buses. It’s a pretty interesting concept. With a ten minute lead time, you summon a Kutsuplus bus to a stop using the official app, just as you’d call a livery cab on Uber. Each minibus in the fleet seats at least nine people, and there’s room for baby carriages and bikes.
You can call your own private Kutsuplus, but if you share the ride, you share the costs—it’s about half the price of a cab fare, and a dollar or two more expensive than old school bus transit. You can then pick your own stop, also using the app.
The interesting part is the scheduling, which is entirely automated. If you’re sharing the ride, an algorithm determines the most direct route, and you only get charged as though you were riding solo. You can pay with a Kutsuplus wallet on the app, or, eventually, bill the charge to your phone bill.”

Sir Tim Berners-Lee: The many meanings of Open


Sir Tim Berners-Lee; ” I was recently asked to talk about the idea of “open”, and I realized the term is used in at least eight different ways. The distinct interpretations are all important in different but interlocking ways. Getting them confused leads to a lot of misunderstanding, so it’s good to review them all.
When we tease apart their meanings, we can understand more clearly which aspects of each are the most important. The first, one of the most important forms of openness for the Web, is its universality.
Universality – When I designed the Web protocols, I had already seen many networked information systems fail because they made some assumptions about the users – that they were using a particular type of computer for instance – or constrained the way they worked, such as forcing them to organize their data in a particular way, or to use a particular data format. The Web had to avoid these issues. The goal was that anyone should be able to publish anything on the Web and so it had to be universal in that it was independent of all these technical constraints, as well as language, character sets, and culture….
Open Standards
The actual design of the Web involved the creation of open standards – and getting people to agree to use them globally. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), of which I am the Director, helps create interoperable standards for Web technology, including HTML5, mobile Web, graphics, the Semantic Web of linked data, and Web accessibility. Any company can join and anyone can review and help create the specifications for the Web….
Open Web Platform (OWP)
W3C’s Open Web Platform is the name for a particular set of open standards which enable an exciting stage of Web computing. Standards such as HTML5, SVG, CSS, video, JavaScript, and others are advancing together so that programmes that once worked only on desktop, tablets or phones can now work from  within the browser itself. It has all the power of HTML5, like easily-inserted video and, in the future, easily-inserted conferences. It also features the APIs for accessing hardware and other capabilities on the device, such as a smartphone’s accelerometer, camera, and local storage. While native apps are limited, Web Apps can work on any platform….
Open Government through Open Data
In 2009, I resolved to encourage more use of data on the Web. Too many websites could generate nice reports as documents, but had no way to access the data behind it to check and build on the results.  In February that year I stood up in front of a TED audience and asked them for their data; I even got them to chant: “raw data now”.  In April that year, I met with Gordon Brown, then Prime Minister of the UK and with him began the UK Government’s ground-breaking work on Open Data. That same year President Barack Obama announced his commitment to the US Open Government Initiative. In 2010 I went back to TED and showed the audience some of what had been achieved, including Open Street Map’s role in relief efforts in Haiti….
Open Platform
While it’s not really a feature of the Web, a concern for a lot of people is whether they can choose which apps run on their own phone or computer. An Open Platform means having the right to install and write software on your computer or device. One motivation to close off a computing platform comes from a manufacturer wanting to allow you to experience their content on your machine without being able to store it or pass it on. Some systems are very closed, in that the user can only watch a movie or play a game, with no chance to copy anything or back it up. Some systems are very open, allowing users to take copies of files and run any application they like. Many systems fall in between, letting users pay for additional material or an experience…
Open Source
“Open Source” is another way “open” is used on the web, one which has been and is very important to the Web’s growth. It’s important to me that I can get at the source code of any software I’m using. If I can get at the source code, can I modify it? Can I distribute the modified code and run it on my machine?  As Free Software Foundation lead Richard Stallman puts it, “free as in freedom rather than free as in beer”.
Open Access
Open Access is a Web-based movement specifically about free (as in beer) access to the body of academic learning. Governments, and therefore taxpayers, pay for research via grants but often the results of the research are kept in closed-access academic journals. The results are only available to those at big universities. The poor and those in remote rural areas cannot participate…
Open Internet and Net Neutrality
When we talk about keeping the internet free and open, we are often worried about blocking and spying. One of the ways in which we protect the Web is by ensuring Net Neutrality. Net Neutrality is about non-discrimination. Its principle is that if I pay to connect to the Net with a certain quality of service, and you pay to connect with that or a greater quality of service, then we can both communicate at the same level. This is important because it allows an open, fair market. It’s essential to an open, fair democracy. The alternative is a Web in which governments or large companies, or frequently a close association of the two, try to control the internet, with packets of information delivered in a way that discriminates for commercial or political reasons. Regimes of every sort spy on their citizens, deriving hugely accurate and detailed profiles of them and their intimate lives. Today, the battle is building.  The rights of individual people on the Web are being attacked, and at the moment only a few people really understand and realize what is going on.”

More Top-Down Participation, Please! Institutionalized empowerment through open participation


Michelle Ruesch and Oliver Märker in DDD: “…this is not another article on the empowering potential of bottom-up digital political participation. Quite the contrary: It instead seeks to stress the empowering potential of top-down digital political participation. Strikingly, the democratic institutionalization of (digital) political participation is rarely considered when we speak about power in the context of political participation. Wouldn’t it be true empowerment though if the right of citizens to speak their minds were directly integrated into political and administrative decision-making processes?

Institutionalized political participation

Political participation, defined as any act that aims to influence politics in some way, can be initiated either by citizens, referred to as “bottom-up” participation, or by government, often referred to as “top-down” participation.  For many, the word “top-down” instantly evokes negative connotations, even though top-down participatory spaces are actually the foundation of democracy. These are the spaces of participation offered by the state and guaranteed by democratic constitutions. For a long time, top-down participation could be equated with formal democratic participation such as elections, referenda or party politics. Today, however, in states like Germany we can observe a new form of top-down political participation, namely government-initiated participation that goes beyond what is legally required and usually makes extensive use of digital media.
Like many other Western states, Germany has to cope with decreasing voter turnout and a lack of trust in political parties. At the same time, according to a recent study from 2012, two-thirds of eligible voters would like to be more involved in political decisions. The case of “Stuttgart 21” served as a late wake-up call for many German municipalities. Plans to construct a new train station in the center of the city of Stuttgart resulted in a petition for a local referendum, which was rejected. Protests against the train station culminated in widespread demonstrations in 2010, forcing construction to be halted. Even though a referendum was finally held in 2011 and a slight majority voted in favor of the train station, the Stuttgart 21 case has since been cited by Chancellor Angela Merkel and others as an example of the negative consequences of taking decisions without consulting with citizens early on. More and more municipalities and federal ministries in Germany have therefore started acknowledging that the conventional democratic model of participation in elections every few years is no longer sufficient. The Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development, for example, published a manual for “good participation” in urban development projects….

What’s so great about top-down participation?

Semi-formal top-down participation processes have one major thing in common, regardless of the topic they address: Governmental institutions voluntarily open up a space for dialogue and thereby obligate themselves to take citizens’ concerns and ideas into account.
As a consequence, government-initiated participation offers the potential for institutionalized empowerment beyond elections. It grants the possibility of integrating participation into political and administrative decision-making processes….
Bottom-up participation will surely always be an important mobilizer of democratic change. Nevertheless, the provision of spaces of open participation by governments can aid in the institutionalization of citizens’ involvement in political decision-making. Had Stuttgart offered an open space of participation early in the train station construction process, maybe protests would never have escalated the way they did.
So is top-down participation the next step in the process of democratization? It could be, but only under certain conditions. Most importantly, top-down open participation requires a genuine willingness to abandon the old principle of doing business behind closed doors. This is not an easy undertaking; it requires time and endurance. Serious open participation also requires creating state institutions that ensure the relevance of the results by evaluating them and considering them in political decisions. We have formulated ten conditions that we consider necessary for the genuine institutionalization of open political participation [14]:

  • There needs to be some scope for decision-making. Top-down participation only makes sense when the results of the participation can influence decisions.
  • The government must genuinely aim to integrate the results into decision-making processes.
  • The limits of participation must be communicated clearly. Citizens must be informed if final decision-making power rests with a political body, for example.
  • The subject matter, rules and procedures need to be transparent.
  • Citizens need to be aware that they have the opportunity to participate.
  • Access to participation must be easy, the channels of participation chosen according to the citizens’ media habits. Using the Internet should not be a goal in itself.
  • The participatory space should be “neutral ground”. A moderator can help ensure this.
  • The set-up must be interactive. Providing information is only a prerequisite for participation.
  • Participation must be possible without providing real names or personal data.
  • Citizens must receive continuous feedback regarding how results are handled and the implementation process.”

Where in the World are Young People Using the Internet?


Georgia Tech: “According to a common myth, today’s young people are all glued to the Internet. But in fact, only 30 percent of the world’s youth population between the ages of 15 and 24 years old has been active online for at least five years. In South Korea, 99.6 percent of young people are active, the highest percentage in the world. The least? The Asian island of Timor Leste with less than 1 percent.

Digital Natives as Percentage of Total Population

Digital natives as a percentage of total population, 2012 (Courtesy: ITU)

Those are among the many findings in a study from the Georgia Institute of Technology and International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The study is the first attempt to measure, by country, the world’s “digital natives.” The term is typically used to categorize young people born around the time the personal computer was introduced and have spent their lives connected with technology.
Nearly 96 percent of American millennials are digital natives. That figure is behind Japan (99.5 percent) and several European countries, including Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands.
But the percentage that Georgia Tech Associate Professor Michael Best thinks is the most important is the number of digital natives as compared to a country’s total population….
The countries with the highest proportion of digital natives among their population are mostly rich nations, which have high levels of overall Internet penetration. Iceland is at the top of the list with 13.9 percent. The United States is sixth (13.1 percent). A big surprise is Malaysia, a middle-income country with one of the highest proportions of digital natives (ranked 4th at 13.4 percent). Malaysia has a strong history of investing in educational technology.
The countries with the smallest estimated proportion of digital natives are Timor-Leste, Myanmar and Sierra Leone. The bottom 10 consists entirely of African or Asian nations, many of which are suffering from conflict and/or have very low Internet availability.”

How to Change the World by Building a Swarm


Nina Misuraca Ignaczak at Shareable: “In 2005, Rick Falvinge of Sweden launched a new political party, the Swedish Pirate Party, on a platform to reform copyright and patent laws. It’s now the third largest party in Sweden, it won two European Parliament seats in 2009, and it inspired the International Pirate Party movement with representation in over 60 countries. The rise of the party has been remarkably fast. In Swarmwise: The Tactical Manual to Changing the World, Falvinge describes how he did it with a unique, decentralized organizing architecture that leverages the power of technology and the crowd to spread ideas and work across diverse groups of people.
Falvinge defines a swarm as: “a decentralized, collaborative effort of volunteers that looks like a hierarchical, traditional organization from the outside. It is built by a small core of people that construct a scaffolding of go-to people, enabling a large number of volunteers to cooperate on a common goal in quantities of people not possible before the net was available.”
The key is decentralization. The founder must set the vision and goal and then release control of messaging and branding, delegate as much authority as possible, and embrace the fact that the only way to lead is to inspire.
A swarm has a shared direction, values and method. Informal leadership is strong, and focuses on everyone’s contributions. The main benefits to swarm organization are:

  • Speed of operation
  • Next-to-nothing operating cost
  • Large number of devoted volunteers
  • Open and inviting to anyone
  • No recruitment process
  • Multiple solutions tried in parallel
  • Transparent by default

Step One: Find an idea to change the world that people can get excited about.
This is critical. The idea must be a game-changer- so exciting, revolutionary and provocative that it will sell itself. Your idea must have four key attributes to be worthy:

  • Tangible: You must have concrete goals with specifics on when this goal should happen, where it will happen, and how it will happen. In the case of the Swedish Pirate Party, the goal was to elect an open-information platform candidate to the European Parliament in the next election. Period.
  • Credible: You must present the goals as realistic and doable.  The key is to strike a balance between a change-the-world idea and pure fantasy.
  • Inclusive: There must be a role and room for participation for everyone, and everyone must see not only how they will personally benefit form the idea but also ho they can be a part of making it happen.
  • Epic: The idea must be a big one, capable of changing how things are done on a broad scale, and people must see the scope of the idea’s impact when it is presented.

Step Two: Do the Math

All versions of the book (including free ones, of course) are available at the bottom of this page.”

Online public services and Design Thinking for governments


Ela Alptekin: “The digital era has changed the expectations citizens have regarding the communication of public services and their engagement with government agencies. ‘Digital Citizenship’ is common place and this is a great opportunity for institutions to explore the benefits this online presence offers.

Most government agencies have moved their public services to digital platforms by applying technology to the exact same workflow they had earlier. They’ve replaced hard copies with emails and signatures with digital prints. However, Information Technologies don’t just improve the efficiency of governments, they also have the power to transform how governments work by redefining their engagement with citizens. With this outlook they can expand the array of services that could be provided and implemented.

When it comes to online public services there are two different paths to building-up a strategy: Governments can either: Use stats, trends and quantitative surveys to measure and produce “reliable results”; or they can develop a deeper understanding of the basic needs of their consumers for a specific problem. With that focus, they may propose a solid solution that would satisfy those needs.

Two of the primary criteria of evaluation in any measurement or observation are:

  1. Does the same measurement process yields the same results?

  2. Are we measuring what we intend to measure?

These two concepts are reliability and validity.

According to Roger Martin, author of “The Design of Business”, truly innovative organisations are those that have managed to balance the “reliability” of analytical thinking with the “validity” of abductive thinking. Many organisations often don’t find this balance between reliability and validity and choose only the reliable data to move on with their future implementations.

So what is the relationship between reliability and validity? The two do not necessarily go hand-in-hand.

At best, we have a measure that has both high validity and high reliability. It yields consistent results in repeated application and it accurately reflects what we hope to represent.

It is possible to have a measure that has high reliability but low validity – one that is consistent in getting bad information or consistent in missing the mark. *It is also possible to have one that has low reliability and low validity – inconsistent and not on target.

Finally, it is not possible to have a measure that has low reliability and high validity – you can’t really get at what you want or what you’re interested in if your measure fluctuates wildly.” – click here for further reading.

Many online, government, public services are based on reliable data and pay no attention to the validity of the results ( 1st figure “reliable but not valid” ).

What can government agencies use to balance the reliability and validity when it comes to public services? The answer is waiting in Design Thinking and abductive reasoning.

….Design thinking helps agencies to go back to the basics of what citizens need from their governments. It can be used to develop both reliable and valid online public services that are able to satisfy their needs….

As Government accelerates towards a world of public services that are digital by default, is this going to deliver the kind of digital services that move the public with them?

To find out, thinkpublic partnered with Consumer Focus (UK) to undertake detailed research into some of the fundamental questions and issues that users of digital public services are interested in. The findings have been published today in the Manifesto for Online Public Services, which sets out simple guiding principles to be placed at the heart of online service design.”

The transition towards transparency


Roland Harwood at the Open Data Institute Blog: “It’s a very exciting time for the field of open data, especially in the UK public sector which is arguably leading the world in this emerging discipline right now, in no small part thanks to the efforts to the Open Data Institute. There is a strong push to release public data and to explore new innovations that can be created as a result.
For instance, the Ordnance Survey have been leading the way with opening up half of their data for others to use, complemented by their GeoVation programme which provides support and incentive for external innovators to develop new products and services.
More recently the Technology Strategy Board have been working with the likes of NERC, Met Office, Environment Agency and other public agencies to help solve business problems using environmental data.
It goes without saying that data won’t leap up and create any value by itself any more than a pile of discarded parts outside a factory will assemble themselves into a car.   We’ve found that the secret of successful open data innovation is to be with people working to solve some specific problem.  Simply releasing the data is not enough. See below a summary of our Do’s and Don’ts of opening up data
Do…

  • Make sure data quality is high (ODI Certificates can help!)
  • Promote innovation using data sets. Transparency is only a means to an end
  • Enhance communication with external innovators
  • Make sure your co-creators are incentivised
  • Get organised, create a community around an issue
  • Pass on learnings to other similar organisations
  • Experiement – open data requires new mindsets and business models
  • Create safe spaces – Innovation Airlocks – to share and prototype with trusted partners
  • Be brave – people may do things with the data that you don’t like
  • Set out to create commercial or social value with data

Dont…

  • Just release data and expect people to understand or create with it. Publication is not the same as communication
  • Wait for data requests, put the data out first informally
  • Avoid challenges to current income streams
  • Go straight for the finished article, use rapid prototyping
  • Be put off by the tensions between confidentiality, data protection and publishing
  • Wait for the big budget or formal process but start big things with small amounts now
  • Be technology led, be business led instead
  • Expect the community to entirely self-manage
  • Restrict open data to the IT literate – create interdisciplinary partnerships
  • Get caught in the false dichotomy that is commercial vs. social

In summary we believe we need to assume openness as the default (for organisations that is, not individuals) and secrecy as the exception – the exact opposite to how most commercial organisations currently operate. …”

Digital Participation – The Case of the Italian 'Dialogue with Citizens'


New paper by Gianluca Sgueo presented at Democracy and Technology – Europe in Tension from the 19th to the 21th Century – Sorbonne Paris, 2013: “This paper focuses on the initiative named “Dialogue With Citizens” that the Italian Government introduced in 2012. The Dialogue was an entirely web-based experiment of participatory democracy aimed at, first, informing citizens through documents and in-depth analysis and, second, designed for answering to their questions and requests. During the year and half of life of the initiative roughly 90.000 people wrote (approximately 5000 messages/month). Additionally, almost 200.000 participated in a number of public online consultations that the government launched in concomitance with the adoption of crucial decisions (i.e. the spending review national program).
From the analysis of this experiment of participatory democracy three questions can be raised. (1) How can a public institution maximize the profits of participation and minimize its costs? (2) How can public administrations manage the (growing) expectations of the citizens once they become accustomed to participation? (3) Is online participatory democracy going to develop further, and why?
In order to fully answer such questions, the paper proceeds as follows: it will initially provide a general overview of online public participation both at the central and the local level. It will then discuss the “Dialogue with Citizens” and a selected number of online public consultations lead by the Italian government in 2012. The conclusions will develop a theoretical framework for reflection on the peculiarities and problems of the web-participation.”

Mobile phone data are a treasure-trove for development


Paul van der Boor and Amy Wesolowski in SciDevNet: “Each of us generates streams of digital information — a digital ‘exhaust trail’ that provides real-time information to guide decisions that affect our lives. For example, Google informs us about traffic by using both its ‘My Location’ feature on mobile phones and third-party databases to aggregate location data. BBVA, one of Spain’s largest banks, analyses transactions such as credit card payments as well as ATM withdrawals to find out when and where peak spending occurs.This type of data harvest is of great value. But, often, there is so much data that its owners lack the know-how to process it and fail to realise its potential value to policymakers.
Meanwhile, many countries, particularly in the developing world, have a dearth of information. In resource-poor nations, the public sector often lives in an analogue world where piles of paper impede operations and policymakers are hindered by uncertainty about their own strengths and capabilities.Nonetheless, mobile phones have quickly pervaded the lives of even the poorest: 75 per cent of the world’s 5.5 billion mobile subscriptions are in emerging markets. These people are also generating digital trails of anything from their movements to mobile phone top-up patterns. It may seem that putting this information to use would take vast analytical capacity. But using relatively simple methods, researchers can analyse existing mobile phone data, especially in poor countries, to improve decision-making.
Think of existing, available data as low-hanging fruit that we — two graduate students — could analyse in less than a month. This is not a test of data-scientist prowess, but more a way of saying that anyone could do it.
There are three areas that should be ‘low-hanging fruit’ in terms of their potential to dramatically improve decision-making in information-poor countries: coupling healthcare data with mobile phone data to predict disease outbreaks; using mobile phone money transactions and top-up data to assess economic growth; and predicting travel patterns after a natural disaster using historical movement patterns from mobile phone data to design robust response programmes.
Another possibility is using call-data records to analyse urban movement to identify traffic congestion points. Nationally, this can be used to prioritise infrastructure projects such as road expansion and bridge building.
The information that these analyses could provide would be lifesaving — not just informative or revenue-increasing, like much of this work currently performed in developed countries.
But some work of high social value is being done. For example, different teams of European and US researchers are trying to estimate the links between mobile phone use and regional economic development. They are using various techniques, such as merging night-time satellite imagery from NASA with mobile phone data to create behavioural fingerprints. They have found that this may be a cost-effective way to understand a country’s economic activity and, potentially, guide government spending.
Another example is given by researchers (including one of this article’s authors) who have analysed call-data records from subscribers in Kenya to understand malaria transmission within the country and design better strategies for its elimination. [1]
In this study, published in Science, the location data of the mobile phones of more than 14 million Kenyan subscribers was combined with national malaria prevalence data. After identifying the sources and sinks of malaria parasites and overlaying these with phone movements, analysis was used to identify likely transmission corridors. UK scientists later used similar methods to create different epidemic scenarios for the Côte d’Ivoire.”

5 Ways Cities Are Using Big Data


Eric Larson in Mashable: “New York City released more than 200 high-value data sets to the public on Monday — a way, in part, to provide more content for open-sourced mapping projects like OpenStreetMap.
It’s one of the many releases since the Local Law 11 of 2012 passed in February, which calls for more transparency of the city government’s collected data.
But it’s not just New York: Cities across the world, large and small, are utilizing big data sets — like traffic statistics, energy consumption rates and GPS mapping — to launch projects to help their respective communities.
We rounded up a few of our favorites below….

1. Seattle’s Power Consumption

The city of Seattle recently partnered with Microsoft and Accenture on a pilot project to reduce the area’s energy usage. Using Microsoft’s Azure cloud, the project will collect and analyze hundreds of data sets collected from four downtown buildings’ management systems.
With predictive analytics, then, the system will work to find out what’s working and what’s not — i.e. where energy can be used less, or not at all. The goal is to reduce power usage by 25%.

2. SpotHero

Finding parking spots — especially in big cities — is undoubtably a headache.

SpotHero is an app, for both iOS and Android devices, that tracks down parking spots in a select number of cities. How it works: Users type in an address or neighborhood (say, Adams Morgan in Washington, D.C.) and are taken to a listing of available garages and lots nearby — complete with prices and time durations.
The app tracks availability in real-time, too, so a spot is updated in the system as soon as it’s snagged.
Seven cities are currently synced with the app: Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago, Baltimore, Boston, Milwaukee and Newark, N.J.

3. Adopt-a-Hydrant

Anyone who’s spent a winter in Boston will agree: it snows.

In January, the city’s Office of New Urban Mechanics released an app called Adopt-a-Hydrant. The program is mapped with every fire hydrant in the city proper — more than 13,000, according to a Harvard blog post — and lets residents pledge to shovel out one, or as many as they choose, in the almost inevitable event of a blizzard.
Once a pledge is made, volunteers receive a notification if their hydrant — or hydrants — become buried in snow.

4. Adopt-a-Sidewalk

Similar to Adopt-a-Hydrant, Chicago’s Adopt-a-Sidewalk app lets residents of the Windy City pledge to shovel sidewalks after snowfall. In a city just as notorious for snowstorms as Boston, it’s an effective way to ensure public spaces remain free of snow and ice — especially spaces belonging to the elderly or disabled.

If you’re unsure which part of town you’d like to “adopt,” just register on the website and browse the map — you’ll receive a pop-up notification for each street you swipe that’s still available.

5. Less Congestion for Lyon

Last year, researchers at IBM teamed up with the city of Lyon, France (about four hours south of Paris), to build a system that helps traffic operators reduce congestion on the road.

The system, called the “Decision Support System Optimizer (DSSO),” uses real-time traffic reports to detect and predict congestions. If an operator sees that a traffic jam is likely to occur, then, she/he can adjust traffic signals accordingly to keep the flow of cars moving smoothly.
It’s an especially helpful tool for emergencies — say, when an ambulance is en route to the hospital. Over time, the algorithms in the system will “learn” from its most successful recommendations, then apply that knowledge when making future predictions.”