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. http://bit.ly/1aeU6yA.

  • 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. http://bit.ly/17fM1e9.

  • 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. http://bit.ly/1eNSoXQ.

  • 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. http://bit.ly/166TKur.

  • 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. http://bit.ly/1aame9K.

  • 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?…

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….”

Open government data emerging, trust in government declining


Monika Ermert in Internet Policy Review: “The use of open government data has declined since last year, a new study by the Initiative D21 and the Institute for Public Information Management (ipima) reported at a press conference in Berlin today. According to the fourth edition of the eGovernment Monitor, the number of users of eGovernment services in Sweden in 2013 was 53 percent, compared to 70 percent in 2012. On average, the decline was as high as 8 percent in those countries that were monitored. Numerous data breach scandals and the revelations about pervasive surveillance were obvious reasons for the heightened caution, the researchers wrote in their summary.
For the eGovernment Monitor, groups of 1000 users respectively in Austria, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the US were questioned on their experiences with eGovernment open data – from the more practical online tax declaration to the still rather nascent online participatory possibilities.
With the exception of Austria, all countries according to the survey lost e-Government users. Apart from Sweden, the US (down 24 from 39) and the UK (down to 34 from 45) lost most eGovernment users. While in 2012 eGovernment use was still growing in numbers in all countries, this year’s results were alarming, Robert Wieland CEO of TNS Infratest and Vice-president of D21, an industry driven initiative for the information society and IT services, said. “We see a loss of trust in the security of eGovernance services,” he said, calling to government and administration to act upon it….
Quite obviously, users of eGovernment services ask for much higher standards, with, for example, 67 percent of German users questioning the security of data transmission to eGovernment services sites. The risk that data transferred to eGovernment sites might be stolen was said to be a big problem by 65 percent of UK (up from a mere 6 percent in 2012) and US users (up from 11 percent).
Also satisfaction with the standards of government services online in general is on the decline, according to the eGovernment Monitor-study. Users complain a lot about meagre usability, lack of seamlessness and transparency of the services. Where a service has been focussed and worked on by governments, usage numbers have grown despite the more bleak general trend, as the numbers for the German tax declaration show (plus 2 percent). The usability issues, and perhaps also the issue of security of transmission, can probably be addressed more easily than the trust problem.”

DataViva: a Big Data Engine for the Brazilian Economy


Piece by André Victor dos Santos Barrence and Cesar A. Hidalgo: “The current Internet paradigm in which one can search about anything and retrieve information is absolutely empowering. We can browse files, websites and indexes and effortlessly reach good amount of information. Google, for instance, was explicitly built on a library analogy available to everyone. However, it is a world where information that should be easily accessible is still hidden in unfriendly databases, and that the best-case scenario is finding few snippets of information embedded within the paragraphs of a report. But is this the way it should be? Or is this just the world we are presently stuck with?
The last decade has been particularly marked by an increasing hype on big data and analytics, mainly fueled by those who are interested in writing narratives on the topic but not necessarily coding about it, even when data itself is not the problem.
Let’s take the case of governments. Governments have plenty of data and in many cases it is actually public (at least in principle). Governments “know” how many people work in every occupation, in every industry and in every location; they know their salaries, previous employers and education history. From a pure data perspective all that is embedded in tax, social security records or annual registrations. From a more pragmatic perspective, it is still inaccessible and hidden even when it is legally open the public. We live in a world where the data is there, but where the statistics and information are not.
The state government of Minas Gerais in Brazil (3rd economy the country, territory larger than France and 20 millions inhabitants) made an important step in that direction by releasing DataViva.info, a platform that opens data for exports and occupations for the entire formal sector of the Brazilian economy through more than 700 million interactive visualizations. Instead of poorly designed tables and interfaces, it guides users to answer questions or freely discover locations, industries and occupations in Brazil that are of interest to them. DataViva allows users to explore simple questions such as the evolution of exports in the last decade for each of the 5,567 municipalities in the country, or highly specific queries, for instance, the average salaries paid to computer scientists working in the software development industry in Belo Horizonte, the state capital of Minas.
DataViva’s visualizations are built on the idea that the industrial and economic activity development of locations is highly path dependent. This means that locations are more likely to be successful at developing industries and activities that are related to the ones already existing, since it indicates the existence of labor inputs, and other capabilities, that are specific and that can often be redeployed to a few related industries and activities. Thus, it informs the processes by which opportunities can be explored and prospective pathways for greater prosperity.
The idea that information is key for the functioning of economies is at least as old as Friedrich Hayek’s seminal paper The Use of Knowledge in Society from 1945. According to Hayek, prices help coordinate economic activities by providing information about the wants and needs of goods and services. Yet, the price information can only serve as a signal as long as people know those prices. Maybe the salaries for engineers in the municipality of Betim (Minas Gerais) are excellent and indicate a strong need for them? But who would have known how many engineers are there in Betim and what are their average salaries?
But the remaining question is: why is Minas Gerais making all of this public data easily available? More than resorting to the contemporary argument of open government Minas understands this is extremely valuable information for investors searching for business opportunities, entrepreneurs pursuing new ventures or workers looking for better career prospects. Lastly, the ultimate goal of DataViva is to provide a common ground for open discussions, moving away from the information deprived idea of central planning and into a future where collaborative planning might become the norm. It is a highly creative attempt to renew public governance for the 21st century.
Despite being a relatively unknown state outside of Brazil, by releasing a platform as DataViva, Minas is providing a strong signal about where in world governments are really pushing forward innovation rather than simply admiring and copying solutions that used to come from trendsetters in the developed world. It seems like real innovation isn’t necessarily taking place in Washington, Paris or London anymore.”
 

Cinq expériences de démocratie 2.0


Le Monde: “Du 23 au 27 novembre, à Strasbourg, les participants au Forum mondial pour la démocratie examineront des initiatives de démocratie participative à l’oeuvre sur tous les continents. En voici quelques exemples. ( Lire aussi l’entretien : “Internet renforce le pouvoir de la société civile”)

  • EN FRANCE, LES ÉLECTEURS PASSENT À L’ÈRE NUMÉRIQUE

Depuis trois ans, les initiatives françaises de démocratie 2.0 se multiplient, avec pour objectif de stimuler la participation citoyenne aux instances démocratiques, qu’elles soient locales ou nationales. Dans la perspective des élections municipales de mars 2014, Questionnezvoselus.org propose ainsi aux internautes d’interroger les candidats à la mairie des 39 villes de France métropolitaine de plus de 100 000 habitants. Objectif ? Etablir la confiance entre les citoyens et leurs élus grâce à davantage de transparence, d’autonomisation et de responsabilité. La démarche rappelle celle de Voxe.org : lors de l’élection présidentielle de 2012, ce comparateur neutre et indépendant des programmes des candidats a enregistré un million de connexions. En complément, Laboxdesmunicipales.com propose des outils d’aide au vote, tandis que Candidat-et-citoyens.fr offre à ceux qui se présentent la possibilité d’associer des citoyens à la construction de leur programme.
Aux adeptes de la transparence, le collectif Democratieouverte.org propose d’interpeller les élus afin qu’ils affichent ouvertement leurs pratiques, et Regardscitoyens.org offre « un accès simplifié au fonctionnement de nos institutions démocratiques à partir des informations publiques »….

Informer, débattre et donner le pouvoir d’agir », tel est le slogan de Puzzled by Policy (PBP, « perplexe quant à la politique »), une plate-forme Internet lancée en octobre 2010 afin d’aider chacun à mieux comprendre les décisions politiques prises au niveau européen et à améliorer ainsi la qualité du débat public….

  • A PORTO ALEGRE,  UN WIKI RELIE HABITANTS ET ÉDILES

Cartographier le territoire et identifier les problèmes que rencontrent les habitants de la ville en utilisant un système « wiki » (c’est-à-dire un site Internet qui s’enrichit des contributions des internautes), telle est la vocation de Porto Alegre.cc.
Conçu pour donner de la visibilité aux causes défendues par les habitants, ce site s’inscrit dans le cadre de la plate-forme « wikicity » (Wikicidade.cc). Un concept dondé sur la méthode de l’intelligence collective, qui s’articule autour de quatre axes : culture de la citoyenneté, éthique de l’attention, responsabilité partagée et engagement civique….

  • EN FINLANDE,  CHACUN LÉGIFÈRE EN LIGNE

Depuis mars 2012, la Constitution finlandaise laisse à tout citoyen ayant atteint la majorité la possibilité d’inscrire des propositions de loi sur l’agenda parlementaire. Ces dernières sont examinées par les élus à condition de recevoir le soutien de 50 000 autres Finlandais (soit 1 % de la population).
Afin d’optimiser l’usage et l’impact de ce dispositif de participation citoyenne, l’ONG Open Ministry a lancé en octobre 2012 une plate-forme facilitant l’implication de tout un chacun. Participation en ligne, ateliers de travail ouverts ou tables rondes sont autant de techniques utilisées à cette fin….

  • AUX ETATS-UNIS, LA FINANCE PARTICIPATIVE GAGNE LES PROJETS PUBLICS

Citizinvestor.com propose aux citoyens américains de participer au financement d’infrastructures publiques. « L’administration n’a jamais assez d’argent pour financer tous les projets et services dont rêvent les citoyens », observent Tony De Sisto et Jordan Tyler Raynor, les cofondateurs du projet, conscients des choix difficiles opérés lors de l’allocation des budgets municipaux et de l’envie des habitants d’avoir leur voix dans ce choix….”

Open Data: From ‘Platform’ to ‘Program’


Engaging Cities: “A few months ago, Dutch designer Mark van der Net launched OSCity.nl, a highly interesting example of what can be done with open data. At first, it looks like a mapping tool. The interface shows a – beautifully designed – map of The Netherlands, color coded according to whatever open data set the user selects, varying from geographical height to the location of empty office buildings. As such it is an example of a broader current in which artists, citizens, ngos and business actors have build online tools to visualize all kinds of data, varying from open government data to collaboratively produced data sets focused on issues like environmental pollution.
What makes OSCity interesting is that it allows users to intuitively map various datasets in combination with each other in so called ‘map stories’. For instance, a map of empty office space can be combined with maps of urban growth and decline, the average renting price per square meter of office space, as well as map that displays the prices of houses for sale. The intersection of those maps shows you where empty office spaces are offered at or below half the price of regular houses and apartments. The result is thus not just an aesthetically pleasing state of affairs, but an action map. Policy makers, developers and citizens can use the insights produced by the map to find empty offices that are worthwhile to turn into houses.
There are two important lessons we can learn from this project. First, it shows the importance of programs like OSCity to make open data platforms operationable for various actors. Over the last few years governments and other organizations have started to open up their datasets, often accompanied with high expectations of citizen empowerment and greater transparency of governments. However, case studies have showed that opening up data and building an open platform is only a first step. Dawes and Helbig have shown that various stakeholders have various needs in terms of standards and protocols, whereas both citizens and government officials need the relevant skills to be able to understand and operate upon the data. ‘Vast amounts of useful information are contained in government data systems’, they write, ‘but the systems themselves are seldom designed for use beyond the collecting agency’s own needs.’ In other words: what is needed to deliver on the expectations of open data, is not only a platform – a publicly available database – but also what I have called ‘programs’ – online tools with intuitive interfaces that make this data intelligible and actionable in concert with the needs of the public.
There is a second issue that OSCity raises. As Jo Bates has pointed out, the main question is: who exactly is empowered through programs like this? Will ‘programs’ that make data operationable work for citizens? Or will their procedures, standards and access be organized to benefit corporate interests? These do not have to be necessarily contradicting, but if the goal is to empower citizens, it is important to engage them as stakeholders in the design of these programs.”

Selected Readings on Crowdsourcing Opinions and Ideas


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

As technological advances give individuals greater ability to share their opinions and ideas with the world, citizens are increasingly expecting government to consult with them and factor their input into the policy-making process. Moving away from the representative democracy system created in a less connected time, e-petitions; participatory budgeting (PB), a collaborative, community-based system for budget allocation; open innovation initiatives; and Liquid Democracy, a hybrid of direct and indirect democracy, are allowing citizens to make their voices heard between trips to the ballot box.

Selected Reading List (in alphabetical order)

Annotated Selected Reading List (in alphabetical order)

Bergmann, Eirikur. “Reconstituting Iceland – Constitutional Reform Caught in a New Critical Order in the Wake of Crisis.” in Academia.edu, (presented at the Political Legitimacy and the Paradox of Regulation, Leiden University, 2013). http://bit.ly/1aaTVYP.
  •  This paper explores the tumultuous history of Iceland’s “Crowdsourced Constitution.” The since-abandoned document was built upon three principles: distribution of power, transparency and responsibility.
  •  Even prior to the draft being dismantled through political processes, Bergmann argues that an overenthusiastic public viewed the constitution as a stronger example of citizen participation than it really was: “Perhaps with the delusion of distance the international media was branding the production as the world’s first ‘crowdsourced’ constitution, drafted by the interested public in clear view for the world to follow…This was however never a realistic description of the drafting. Despite this extraordinary open access, the Council was not able to systematically plough through all the extensive input as [it] only had four months to complete the task.”
  • Bergmann’s paper illustrates the transition Iceland’s constitution has undertaken in recent years: moving form a paradigmatic example of crowdsourcing opinions to a demonstration of the challenges inherent in bringing more voices into a realm dominated by bureaucracy and political concerns.
Gassmann, Oliver, Ellen Enkel, and Henry Chesbrough. “The Future of Open Innovation.” R&D Management 40, no. 3 (2010): 213– 221. http://bit.ly/1bk4YeN.
  • In this paper – an introduction to a special issue on the topic – Gassmann, Enkel and Chesbrough discuss the evolving trends in open innovation. They define the concept, referencing previous work by Chesbrough et al., as “…the purposive inflows and outflows of knowledge to accelerate internal innovation, and expand the markets for external use of innovation, respectively.”
  • In addition to examining the existing literature for the field, the authors identify nine trends that they believe will define the future of open innovation for businesses, many of which can also be applied to governing insitutions:
    • Industry penetration: from pioneers to mainstream
    • R&D intensity: from high to low tech
    • Size: from large firms to SMEs
    • Processes: from stage gate to probe-and-learn
    • Structure: from standalone to alliances
    • Universities: from ivory towers to knowledge brokers  Processes: from amateurs to professionals
    • Content: from products to services
    • Intellectual property: from protection to a tradable good
Gilman, Hollie Russon. “The Participatory Turn: Participatory Budgeting Comes to America.” Harvard University, 2012. https://bit.ly/2BhaeVv.
  •  In this dissertation, Gilman argues that participatory budgeting (PB) produces better outcomes than the status quo budget process in New York, while also transforming how those who participate understand themselves as citizens, constituents, Council members, civil society leaders and community stakeholders.
  • The dissertation also highlights challenges to participation drawing from experience and lessons learned from PB’s inception in Porto Alege, Brazil in 1989. While recognizing a diversity of challenges, Gilman ultimately argues that, “PB provides a viable and informative democratic innovation for strengthening civic engagement within the United States that can be streamlined and adopted to scale.”
Kasdan, Alexa, and Cattell, Lindsay. “New Report on NYC Participatory Budgeting.” Practical Visionaries. Accessed October 21, 2013. https://bit.ly/2Ek8bTu.
  • This research and evaluation report is the result of surveys, in-depth interviews and observations collected at key points during the 2011 participatory budgeting (PB) process in New York City, in which “[o]ver 2,000 community members were the ones to propose capital project ideas in neighborhood assemblies and town hall meetings.”
  • The PBNYC project progressed through six main steps:
    •  First Round of Neighborhood Assemblies
    • Delegate Orientations
    • Delegate Meetings
    • Second Round of Neighborhood Assemblies
    • Voting
    • Evaluation, Implementation & Monitoring
  •  The authors also discuss the varied roles and responsibilities for the divers stakeholders involved in the process:
    • Community Stakeholders
    • Budget Delegates
    • District Committees
    • City-wide Steering Committee  Council Member Offices
Masser, Kai. “Participatory Budgeting as Its Critics See It.” Burgerhaushalt, April 30, 2013. http://bit.ly/1dppSxW.
  • This report is a critique of the participatory budgeting (PB) process, focusing on lessons learned from the outcomes of a pilot initiative in Germany.
  • The reports focuses on three main criticisms leveled against PB:
    • Participatory Budgeting can be a time consuming process that is barely comprehensive to the people it seeks to engage, as a result there is need for information about the budget, and a strong willingness to participate in preparing it.
    • Differences in the social structure of the participants inevitably affect the outcome – the process must be designed to avoid low participation or over-representation of one group.
    • PB cannot be sustained over a prolonged period and should therefore focus on one aspect of the budgeting process. The article points to outcomes that show that citizens may find it considerably more attractive to make proposals on how to spend money than on how to save it, which may not always result in the best outcomes.
OECD. “Citizens as Partners: Information, Consultation and Public Participation in Policy-making.” The IT Law Wiki. http://bit.ly/1aIGquc.
  • This OECD policy report features discussion on the concept of crowdsourcing as a new form or representation and public participation in OECD countries, with the understanding that it creates avenues for citizens to participate in public policy-making within the overall framework of representative democracy.
  • The report provides a wealth of comparative information on measures adopted in OECD countries to strengthen citizens’ access to information, to enhance consultation and encourage their active participation in policy-making.

Tchorbadjiiski, Angel. “Liquid Democracy.” Rheinisch-Westf alische Technische Hochschule Aachen Informatik 4 ComSy, 2012. http://bit.ly/1eOsbIH.

  • This thesis presents discusses how Liquid Democracy (LD) makes it for citizens participating in an election to “either take part directly or delegate [their] own voting rights to a representative/expert. This way the voters are not limited to taking one decision for legislative period as opposed to indirect (representative) democracy, but are able to actively and continuously take part in the decision-making process.”
  • Tchorbadjiiski argues that, “LD provides great flexibility. You do not have to decide yourself on the program of a political party, which only suits some aspects of your opinion.” Through LD, “all voters can choose between direct and indirect democracy creating a hybrid government form suiting their own views.”
  • In addition to describing the potential benefits of Liquid Democracy, Tchorbadjiiski focuses on the challenge of maintaining privacy and security in such a system. He proposes a platform that “allows for secure and anonymous voting in such a way that it is not possible, even for the system operator, to find out the identity of a voter or to prevent certain voters (for example minority groups) from casting a ballot.”

Open Data Barometer


Press Release by the Open Data Research Network: “New research by World Wide Web Foundation and Open Data Institute shows that 55% of countries surveyed have open data initiatives in place, yet less than 10% of key government datasets across the world are truly open to the public…the Open Data Barometer. This 77-country study, which considers the interlinked areas of policy, implementation and impact, ranks the UK at number one. The USA, Sweden, New Zealand, Denmark and Norway (tied) make up the rest of the top five. Kenya is ranked as the most advanced developing country, outperforming richer countries such as Ireland, Italy and Belgium in global comparisons.

The Barometer reveals that:

  • 55% of countries surveyed have formal open data policies in place.

  • Valuable but potentially controversial datasets – such as company registers and land registers – are among the least likely to be openly released. It is unclear whether this stems from reluctance to drop lucrative access charges, or from desire to keep a lid on politically sensitive information, or both. However, the net effect is to severely limit the accountability benefits of open data.

  • When they are released, government datasets are often issued in inaccessible formats. Across the nations surveyed, fewer that than 1 in 10 key datasets that could be used to hold governments to account, stimulate enterprise, and promote better social policy, are available and truly open for re-use.

The research also makes the case that:

  • Efforts should be made to empower civil society, entrepreneurs and members of the public to use government data made available, rather than simply publishing data online.

  • Business activity and innovation can be boosted by strong open data policies.  In Denmark, for example, free of charge access to address data has had a significant economic impact. In 2010, an evaluation recorded an estimated financial benefit to society of EUR 62 million against costs of EUR 2million.”

Open Data Index provides first major assessment of state of open government data


Press Release from the Open Knowledge Foundation: “In the week of a major international summit on government transparency in London, the Open Knowledge Foundation has published its 2013 Open Data Index, showing that governments are still not providing enough information in an accessible form to their citizens and businesses.
The UK and US top the 2013 Index, which is a result of community-based surveys in 70 countries. They are followed by Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands. Of the countries assessed, Cyprus, St Kitts & Nevis, the British Virgin Islands, Kenya and Burkina Faso ranked lowest. There are many countries where the governments are less open but that were not assessed because of lack of openness or a sufficiently engaged civil society. This includes 30 countries who are members of the Open Government Partnership.
The Index ranks countries based on the availability and accessibility of information in ten key areas, including government spending, election results, transport timetables, and pollution levels, and reveals that whilst some good progress is being made, much remains to be done.
Rufus Pollock, Founder and CEO of the Open Knowledge Foundation said:

Opening up government data drives democracy, accountability and innovation. It enables citizens to know and exercise their rights, and it brings benefits across society: from transport, to education and health. There has been a welcome increase in support for open data from governments in the last few years, but this Index reveals that too much valuable information is still unavailable.

The UK and US are leaders on open government data but even they have room for improvement: the US for example does not provide a single consolidated and open register of corporations, while the UK Electoral Commission lets down the UK’s good overall performance by not allowing open reuse of UK election data.
There is a very disappointing degree of openness of company registers across the board: only 5 out of the 20 leading countries have even basic information available via a truly open licence, and only 10 allow any form of bulk download. This information is critical for range of reasons – including tackling tax evasion and other forms of financial crime and corruption.
Less than half of the key datasets in the top 20 countries are available to re-use as open data, showing that even the leading countries do not fully understand the importance of citizens and businesses being able to legally and technically use, reuse and redistribute data. This enables them to build and share commercial and non-commercial services.
To see the full results: https://index.okfn.org. For graphs of the data: https://index.okfn.org/visualisations.”