A promising phenomenon of open data: A case study of the Chicago open data project


Paper by Maxat Kassen in Government Information Quarterly: “This article presents a case study of the open data project in the Chicago area. The main purpose of the research is to explore empowering potential of an open data phenomenon at the local level as a platform useful for promotion of civic engagement projects and provide a framework for future research and hypothesis testing. Today the main challenge in realization of any e-government projects is a traditional top–down administrative mechanism of their realization itself practically without any input from members of the civil society. In this respect, the author of the article argues that the open data concept realized at the local level may provide a real platform for promotion of proactive civic engagement. By harnessing collective wisdom of the local communities, their knowledge and visions of the local challenges, governments could react and meet citizens’ needs in a more productive and cost-efficient manner. Open data-driven projects that focused on visualization of environmental issues, mapping of utility management, evaluating of political lobbying, social benefits, closing digital divide, etc. are only some examples of such perspectives. These projects are perhaps harbingers of a new political reality where interactions among citizens at the local level will play an more important role than communication between civil society and government due to the empowering potential of the open data concept.”

Public Policies, Made to Fit People


Richard Thaler in the New York Times: “I HAVE written here before about the potential gains to government from involving social and behavioral scientists in designing public policies. My enthusiasm comes in part from my experiences as an academic adviser to the Behavioral Insights Team created in Britain by Prime Minister David Cameron.

Thus I was pleased to hear reports that the White House is building a similar initiative here in the United States. Maya Shankar, a cognitive scientist and senior policy adviser at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, is coordinating this cross-agency group, called the Social and Behavioral Science Team; it is part of a larger effort to use evidence and innovation to promote government performance and efficiency. I am among a number of academics who have shared ideas with the administration about how research findings in social and behavioral science can improve policy.

It makes sense for social scientists to become more involved in policy, because many of society’s most challenging problems are, in essence, behavioral. Using social scientists’ findings to create plausible interventions, then testing their efficacy with randomized controlled trials, can improve — and sometimes save — people’s lives, all while reducing the need for more government spending to fix problems later.

Here are three examples of social science issues that have attracted the team’s attention…
THE 30-MILLION-WORD GAP One of society’s thorniest problems is that children from poor families start school lagging badly behind their more affluent classmates in readiness. By the age of 3, children from affluent families have vocabularies that are roughly double those of children from poor families, according to research published in 1995….
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE The team will primarily lend support and expertise to federal agency initiatives. One example concerns the effort to reduce domestic violence, a problem for which there is no quick fix….
HEALTH COMPLIANCE One reason for high health care costs is that patients fail to follow their treatment regimen….”

The Logic of Connective Action- Digital Media and the Personalization of Contentious Politics


New book by W. Lance Bennett and Alexandra Segerberg: “The Logic of Connective Action explains the rise of a personalized digitally networked politics in which diverse individuals address the common problems of our times such as economic fairness and climate change. Rich case studies from the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany illustrate a theoretical framework for understanding how large-scale connective action is coordinated using inclusive discourses such as “We Are the 99%” that travel easily through social media. In many of these mobilizations, communication operates as an organizational process that may replace or supplement familiar forms of collective action based on organizational resource mobilization, leadership, and collective action framing. In some cases, connective action emerges from crowds that shun leaders, as when Occupy protesters created media networks to channel resources and create loose ties among dispersed physical groups. In other cases, conventional political organizations deploy personalized communication logics to enable large-scale engagement with a variety of political causes. The Logic of Connective Action shows how power is organized in communication-based networks, and what political outcomes may result.”

Is Online Transparency Just a Feel-Good Sham?


Billy House in the National Journal: “It drew more than a few laughs in Washington. Not long after the White House launched its We the People website in 2011, where citizens could write online petitions and get a response if they garnered enough signatures, someone called for construction of a Star Wars-style Death Star.
With laudable humor, the White House dispatched Paul Shawcross, chief of the Science and Space Branch of the Office of Management and Budget, to explain that the administration “does not support blowing up planets.”
The incident caused a few chuckles, but it also made a more serious point: Years after politicians and government officials began using Internet surveys and online outreach as tools to engage people, the results overall have been questionable….
But skepticism over the value of these programs—and their genuineness—remains strong. Peter Levine, a professor at Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service, said programs like online petitioning and citizen cosponsoring do not necessarily produce a real, representative voice for the people.
It can be “pretty easy to overwhelm these efforts with deliberate strategic action,” he said, noting that similar petitioning efforts in the European Union often find marijuana legalization as the most popular measure.”

Civic Innovation Fellowships Go Global


Some thoughts from Panthea Lee from Reboot: “In recent years, civic innovation fellowships have shown great promise to improve the relationships between citizens and government. In the United States, Code for America and the Presidential Innovation Fellows have demonstrated the positive impact a small group of technologists can have working hand-in-hand with government. With the launch of Code for All, Code for Europe, Code4Kenya, and Code4Africa, among others, the model is going global.
But despite the increasing popularity of civic innovation fellowships, there are few templates for how a “Code for” program can be adapted to a different context. In the US, the success of Code for America has drawn from a wealth of tech talent eager to volunteer skills, public and private support, and the active participation of municipal governments. Elsewhere, new “Code for” programs are surely going to have to operate within a different set of capacities and constraints.”

The Participatory Turn: Participatory Budgeting Comes to America


Thesis by Hollie Russon Gilman: “Participatory Budgeting (PB) has expanded to over 1,500 municipalities worldwide since its inception in Porto Alege, Brazil in 1989 by the leftist Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party). While PB has been adopted throughout the world, it has yet to take hold in the United States. This dissertation examines the introduction of PB to the United States with the first project in Chicago in 2009, and proceeds with an in-depth case study of the largest implementation of PB in the United States: Participatory Budgeting in New York City. I assess the outputs of PB in the United States including deliberations, governance, and participation. I argue that PB produces better outcomes than the status quo budget process in New York City, while also transforming how those who participate understand themselves as citizens, constituents, Council members, civil society leaders and community stakeholders. However, there are serious challenges to participation, including high costs of engagement, process exhaustion, and perils of scalability. I devise a framework for assessment called “citizenly politics,” focusing on: 1) designing participation 2) deliberation 3) participation and 4) potential for institutionalization. I argue that while the material results PB produces are relatively modest, including more innovative projects, PB delivers more substantial non-material or existential results. Existential citizenly rewards include: greater civic knowledge, strengthened relationships with elected officials, and greater community inclusion. Overall, PB provides a viable and informative democratic innovation for strengthening civic engagement within the United States that can be streamlined and adopted to scale.”

Five myths about big data


Samuel Arbesman, senior scholar at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the author of “The Half-Life of Facts” in the Washington Post: “Big data holds the promise of harnessing huge amounts of information to help us better understand the world. But when talking about big data, there’s a tendency to fall into hyperbole. It is what compels contrarians to write such tweets as “Big Data, n.: the belief that any sufficiently large pile of s— contains a pony.” Let’s deflate the hype.
1. “Big data” has a clear definition.
The term “big data” has been in circulation since at least the 1990s, when it is believed to have originated in Silicon Valley. IBM offers a seemingly simple definition: Big data is characterized by the four V’s of volume, variety, velocity and veracity. But the term is thrown around so often, in so many contexts — science, marketing, politics, sports — that its meaning has become vague and ambiguous….
2. Big data is new.
By many accounts, big data exploded onto the scene quite recently. “If wonks were fashionistas, big data would be this season’s hot new color,” a Reuters report quipped last year. In a May 2011 report, the McKinsey Global Institute declared big data “the next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity.”
It’s true that today we can mine massive amounts of data — textual, social, scientific and otherwise — using complex algorithms and computer power. But big data has been around for a long time. It’s just that exhaustive datasets were more exhausting to compile and study in the days when “computer” meant a person who performed calculations….
3. Big data is revolutionary.
In their new book, “Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think,”Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier compare “the current data deluge” to the transformation brought about by the Gutenberg printing press.
If you want more precise advertising directed toward you, then yes, big data is revolutionary. Generally, though, it’s likely to have a modest and gradual impact on our lives….
4. Bigger data is better.
In science, some admittedly mind-blowing big-data analyses are being done. In business, companies are being told to “embrace big data before your competitors do.” But big data is not automatically better.
Really big datasets can be a mess. Unless researchers and analysts can reduce the number of variables and make the data more manageable, they get quantity without a whole lot of quality. Give me some quality medium data over bad big data any day…
5. Big data means the end of scientific theories.
Chris Anderson argued in a 2008 Wired essay that big data renders the scientific method obsolete: Throw enough data at an advanced machine-learning technique, and all the correlations and relationships will simply jump out. We’ll understand everything.
But you can’t just go fishing for correlations and hope they will explain the world. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up with spurious correlations. Even more important, to contend with the “why” of things, we still need ideas, hypotheses and theories. If you don’t have good questions, your results can be silly and meaningless.
Having more data won’t substitute for thinking hard, recognizing anomalies and exploring deep truths.”

Announcing Project Open Data from Cloudant Labs


Yuriy Dybskiy from Cloudant: “There has been an emerging pattern over the last few years of more and more government datasets becoming available for public access. Earlier this year, the White House announced official policy on such data – Project Open Data.

Available resources

Here are four resources on the topic:

  1. Tim Berners-Lee: Open, Linked Data for a Global Community – [10 min video]
  2. Rufus Pollock: Open Data – How We Got Here and Where We’re Going – [24 min video]
  3. Open Knowledge Foundation Datasets – http://data.okfn.org/data
  4. Max Ogden: Project dat – collaborative data – [github repo]

One of the main challenges is access to the datasets. If only there were a database that had easy access to its data baked right in it.
Luckily, there is CouchDB and Cloudant, which share the same APIs to access data via HTTP. This makes for a really great option to store interesting datasets.

Cloudant Open Data

Today we are happy to announce a Cloudant Labs project – Cloudant Open Data!
Several datasets are available at the moment, for example, businesses_sf – data regarding businesses registered in San Francisco and sf_pd_incidents – a collection of incident reports (criminal and non-criminal) made by the San Francisco Police Department.
We’ll add more, but if you have one you’d like us to add faster – drop us a line at open-data@cloudant.com
Create an account and play with these datasets yourself”

OpenCounter


Code for America: “OpenCounter’s mission is to empower entrepreneurs and foster local economic development by simplifying the process of registering a business.
Economic development happens in many forms, from projects like the revitalization of the Brooklyn Navy Yard or Hudson Rail Yards in New York City, to campaigns to encourage residents to shop at local merchants. While the majority of headlines will focus on a City’s effort to secure a major new employer (think Apple’s 1,000,000 square foot expansion in Austin, Texas), most economic development and job creation happens on a much smaller scale, as individuals stake their financial futures on creating a new product, store, service or firm.
But these new businesses aren’t in a position to accept tax breaks on capital equipment or enter into complex development and disposition agreements to build new offices or stores. Many new businesses can’t even meet the underwriting criteria of  SBA backed revolving-loan programs. Competition for local grants for facade improvements or signage assistance can be fierce….
Despite many cities’ genuine efforts to be “business-friendly,” their default user interface consists of florescent-lit formica, waiting lines, and stacks of forms. Online resources often remind one of a phone book, with little interactivity or specialization based on either the businesses’ function or location within a jurisdiction.
That’s why we built OpenCounter….See what we’re up to at opencounter.us or visit a live version of our software at http://opencounter.cityofsantacruz.com.”

From Machinery to Mobility: Government and Democracy in a Participative Age


From Machinery to Mobility

New book by Jeffrey Roy: “The Westminster-stylized model of Parliamentary democratic politics and public service accountability is increasingly out of step with the realities of today’s digitally and socially networked era. This book explores the reconfiguration of democratic and managerial governance within democratic societies due to the advent of technological mobility. More specifically, the traditional public sector prism of organizational and accountability – denoted as ‘machinery of government’, is increasingly strained in an era characterized by smart devices, social media, and cloud computing. This book examines the roots and implications of the tensions between machinery and mobility and the sorts of investments and initiatives that have been undertaken by governments around the world as well as their appropriateness and relative impacts. This book also examines the prospects for holistic adaptation of democratic and managerial systems going forward, identifying the most crucial directions and determinants for improving public sector performance in terms of outcomes, accountability, and agility. Accordingly, the ultimate aim of this initiative is to contribute to the formation of intellectual foundations for more systemic reforms of public sector governance in Canada and elsewhere, and to offer forward-looking trajectories for government adaptation in shifting from a traditional prism of ‘machinery’ to new organizational and institutional arrangements better suited for an era of ‘mobility’.”