NEW: The Open Governance Knowledge Base

In its continued efforts to organize and disseminate learnings in the field of technology-enabled governance innovation, today, The Governance Lab is introducing a collaborative, wiki-style repository of information and research at the nexus of technology, governance and citizenship. Right now we’re calling it the Open Governance Knowledge Base, and it goes live today.
Our goal in creating this collaborative platform is to provide a single source of research and insights related to the broad, interdiscplinary field of open governance for the benefit of: 1) decision-makers in governing institutions seeking information and inspiration to guide their efforts to increase openness; 2) academics seeking to enrich and expand their scholarly pursuits in this field; 3) technology practitioners seeking insights and examples of familiar tools being used to solve public problems; and 4) average citizens simply seeking interesting information on a complex, evolving topic area.
While you can already find some pre-populated information and research on the platform, we need your help! The field of open governance is too vast, complex and interdisciplinary to meaningfully document without broad collaboration.
Here’s how you can help to ensure this shared resource is as useful and engaging as possible:

  • What should we call the platform? We want your title suggestions. Leave your ideas in the comments or tweet them to us @TheGovLab.
  • And more importantly: Share your knowledge and research. Take a look at what we’ve posted, create an account, refer to this MediaWiki formatting guide as needed and start editing!

Wicked Problems: Problems Worth Solving – A Handbook and a Call to Action

This book was started with the intent of changing design and social entrepreneurship education. As these disciplines converge, it becomes evident that existing pedagogy doesn’t support either students or practicioners attempting to design for impact. This text is a reaction to that convergence, and will ideally be used by various students, educators, and practicioners:
One audience is professors and educators of design, who are challenged with reinventing their educational curriculum in the face of a changing world. For them, this book should act as both a starting point for curriculum development and a justification for why this development is necessary—it should answer the question “what should design and social entrepreneurship education look like?”
Another audience is made up of fresh-out-of-school designers, who are bored and uninspired by their jobs. For them, this book should answer the question “how can I redirect my design efforts to something meaningful?”
Finally, a last audience is made up of practicing designers and entrepreneurs, who are looking to achieve social impact in their work. For them, the book should answer the question “what tools and techniques can I use in my work to drive impact through design?”
The entire text of the book is available online for free as HTML, and provided for reuse and adaptation under a creative commons license. We hope you find this a useful resource in your practice, education, and in your day to day life.
Read Wicked Problems: Problems Worth Solving

Behavioural Public Policy

New book by Adam Oliver (Cambridge University Press): “How can individuals best be encouraged to take more responsibility for their well-being and their environment or to behave more ethically in their business transactions? Across the world, governments are showing a growing interest in using behavioural economic research to inform the design of nudges which, some suggest, might encourage citizens to adopt beneficial patterns of behaviour. In this fascinating collection, leading academic economists, psychologists and philosophers reflect on how behavioural economic findings can be used to help inform the design of policy initiatives in the areas of health, education, the environment, personal finances and worker remuneration. Each chapter is accompanied by a shorter ‘response’ that provides critical commentary and an alternative perspective. This accessible book will interest academic researchers, graduate students and policy-makers across a range of disciplinary perspectives.”

What future do you want? Commission invites votes on what Europe could look like in 2050 to help steer future policy and research planning

European Commission – MEMO: “Vice-President Neelie Kroes, responsible for the Digital Agenda, is inviting people to join a voting and ranking process on 11 visions of what the world could look like in 20-40 years. The Commission is seeking views on living and learning, leisure and working in Europe in 2050, to steer long-term policy or research planning.
The visions have been gathered over the past year through the Futurium, an online debate platform that allows policymakers to not only consult citizens, but to collaborate and “co-create” with them, and at events throughout Europe. Thousands of thinkers – from high school students, to the Erasmus Students Network; from entrepreneurs and internet pioneers to philosophers and university professors, have engaged in a collective inquiry – a means of crowd-sourcing what our future world could look like.
Eleven over-arching themes have been drawn together from more than 200 ideas for the future. From today, everyone is invited to join the debate and offer their rating and rankings of the various ideas. The results of the feedback will help the European Commission make better decisions about how to fund projects and ideas that both shape the future and get Europe ready for that future….
The Futurium is a foresight project run by DG CONNECT, based on an open source approach. It develops visions of society, technologies, attitudes and trends in 2040-2050 and use these, for example as potential blueprints for future policy choices or EU research and innovation funding priorities.
It is an online platform developed to capture emerging trends and enable interested citizens to co-create compelling visions of the futures that matter to them.

This crowd-sourcing approach provides useful insights on:

  1. vision: where people want to go, how desirable and likely are the visions posted on the platform;
  2. policy ideas: what should ideally be done to realise the futures; the possible impacts and plausibility of policy ideas;
  3. evidence: scientific and other evidence to support the visions and policy ideas.

Connecting policy making to people: in an increasingly connected society, online outreach and engagement is an essential response to the growing demand for participation, helping to capture new ideas and to broaden the legitimacy of the policy making process (IP/10/1296). The Futurium is an early prototype of a more general policy-making model described in the paper “The Futurium—a Foresight Platform for Evidence-Based and Participatory Policymaking“.

The Futurium was developed to lay the groundwork for future policy proposals which could be considered by the European Parliament and the European Commission under their new mandates as of 2014. But the Futurium’s open, flexible architecture makes it easily adaptable to any policy-making context, where thinking ahead, stakeholder participation and scientific evidence are needed.”

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: For graphs of the data:”

Information Now: Open Access and the Public Good

Podcast from SMARTech (Georgia Tech): “Every year, the international academic and research community dedicates a week in October to discuss, debate, and learn more about Open Access. Open Access in the academic sense refers to the free, immediate, and online access to the results of scholarly research, primarily academic, peer-reviewed journal articles. In the United States, the movement in support of Open Access has, in the last decade, been growing dramatically. Because of this growing interest in Open Access, a group of academic librarians from the Georgia Tech library, Wendy Hagenmaier (Digital Collections Archivist), Fred Rascoe (Scholarly Communication Librarian), and Lizzy Rolando (Research Data Librarian), got together to talk to folks in the thick of it, to try and unravel some of the different concerns and benefits of Open Access. But we didn’t just want to talk about Open Access for journal articles – we wanted to examine more broadly what it means to be “open”, what is open information, and what relationship open information has to the public good. In this podcast, we talk with different people who have seen and experienced open information and open access in practice. In the first act, Dan Cohen from the DPLA speaks about efforts to expand public access to archival and library collections. In the second, we’ll hear an argument from Christine George about why things sometimes need to be closed, if we want them to be open in the future. Third, Kari Watkins speaks about specific example of when a government agency decided, against legitimate concerns, to make transit data open, and why it worked for them. Fourth, Peter Suber from Harvard University will give us the background on the Open Access movement, some myths that have been dispelled, and why it is important for academic researchers to take the leap to make their research openly accessible. And finally, we’ll hear from Michael Chang, a researcher who did take that leap and helped start an Open Access journal, and why he sees openness in research as his obligation.”

See also Personal Guide to Open Access

The "crowd computing" revolution

Michael Copeland in the Atlantic: “Software might be eating the world, but Rob Miller, a professor of computer science at MIT, foresees a “crowd computing” revolution that makes workers and machines colleagues rather than competitors….
Miller studies human-computer interaction, specifically a field called crowd computing. A play on the more common term “cloud computing,” crowd computing is software that employs a group of people to do small tasks and solve a problem better than an algorithm or a single expert. Examples of crowd computing include Wikipedia, Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (where workers outsource projects that computers can’t do to an online community) a Facebook’s photo tagging feature.
But just as humans are better than computers at some things, Miller concedes that algorithms have surpassed human capability in several fields. Take a look at libraries, which now have advanced digital databases, eliminating the need for most human reference librarians. There’s also flight search, where algorithms are much better than people at finding the cheapest fare.
That said, more complicated tasks even in those fields can get tricky for a computer.
“For complex flight search, people are still better,” Miller says. A site called Flightfox lets travelers input a complex trip while a group of experts help find the cheapest or most convenient combination of flights. “There are travel agents and frequent flyers in that crowd, people with expertise at working angles of the airfare system that are not covered by the flight searches and may never be covered because they involve so many complex intersecting rules that are very hard to code.”
Social and cultural understanding is another area in which humans will always exceed computers, Miller says. People are constantly inventing new slang, watching the latest viral videos and movies, or partaking in some other cultural phenomena together. That’s something that an algorithm won’t ever be able to catch up to. “There’s always going to be a frontier of human understanding that leads the machines,” he says.
A post-employee economy where every task is automated by a computer is something Miller does not see happening, nor does he want it to happen. Instead, he considers the relationship between human and machine symbiotic. Both machines and humans benefit in crowd computing, “the machine wants to acquire data so it can train and get better. The crowd is improved in many ways, like through pay or education,” Miller says. And finally, the end users “get the benefit of a more accurate and fast answer.”
Miller’s User Interface Design Group at MIT has made several programs illustrating how this symbiosis between user, crowd and machine works. Most recently, the MIT group created Cobi, a tool that taps into an academic community to plan a large-scale conference. The software allows members to identify papers they want presented and what authors are experts in specific fields. A scheduling tool combines the community’s input with an algorithm that finds the best times to meet.
Programs more practical for everyday users include Adrenaline, a camera driven by a crowd, and Soylent, a word processing tool that allows people to do interactive document shortening and proofreading. The Adrenaline camera took a video and then had a crowd on call to very quickly identify the best still in that video, whether it was the best group portrait, mid-air jump, or angle of somebody’s face. Soylent also used users on Mechanical Turk to proofread and shorten text in Microsoft Word. In the process, Miller and his students found that the crowd found errors that neither a single expert proofreader nor the program—with spell and grammar check turned on—could find.
“It shows this is the essential thing that human beings bring that algorithms do not,” Miller said.
That said, you can’t just use any crowd for any task. “It does depend on having appropriate expertise in the crowd. If [the text] had been about computational biology, they might not have caught [the error]. The crowd does have to have skills.” Going forward, Miller thinks that software will increasingly use the power of the crowd. “In the next 10 or 20 years it will be more likely we already have a crowd,” he says. “There will already be these communities and they will have needs, some of which will be satisfied by software and some which will require human help and human attention. I think a lot of these algorithms and system techniques that are being developed by all these startups, who are experimenting with it in their own spaces, are going to be things that we’ll just naturally pick up and use as tools.”

Bright Spots of open government to be recognised at global summit

Press Release of the UK Cabinet Office: “The 7 shortlisted initiatives vying for the Bright Spots award show how governments in Open Government Partnership countries are working with citizens to sharpen governance, harness new technologies to increase public participation and improve government responsiveness.
At the Open Government Partnership summit in London on 31 October 2013 and 1 November 2013, participants will be able to vote for one of the shortlisted projects. The winning project – the Bright Spot – will be announced in the summit’s final plenary session….
The shortlisted entries for the Bright Spots prize – which will be awarded at the London summit – are:

  • Chile – ChileAtiende

The aim of ChileAtiende has been to simplify government to citizens by providing a one-stop shop for accessing public services. Today, ChileAtiende has more than 190 offices across the whole country, a national call centre and a digital platform, through which citizens can access multiple services and benefits without having to navigate multiple government offices.

  • Estonia – People’s Assembly

The People’s Assembly is a deliberative democracy tool, designed to encourage input from citizens on the government’s legislative agenda. This web-based platform allows ordinary citizens to propose policy solutions to problems including fighting corruption. Within 3 weeks, 1,800 registered users posted nearly 6,000 ideas and comments. Parliament has since set a timetable for the most popular proposals to be introduced in the formal proceedings.

  • Georgia – improvements to the Freedom of Information Act

Civil society organisations in Georgia have successfully used the government’s participation in OGP to advocate improvements to the country’s Freedom of Information legislation. Government agencies are now obliged to proactively publish information in a way that is accessible to anyone, and to establish an electronic request system for information.

  • Indonesia – complaints portal

LAPOR! (meaning “to report” in Indonesian) is a social media channel where Indonesian citizens can submit complaints and enquiries about development programmes and public services. Comments are transferred directly to relevant ministries or government agencies, which can respond via the website. LAPOR! now has more than 225,350 registered users and receives an average of 1,435 inputs per day.

  • Montenegro – Be Responsible app

“Be Responsible” is a mobile app that allows citizens to report local problems – from illegal waste dumps, misuse of official vehicles and irregular parking, to failure to comply with tax regulations and issues over access to healthcare and education.

  • Philippines – citizen audits

The Citizen Participatory Audit (CPA) project is exploring ways in which citizens can be directly engaged in the audit process for government projects and contribute to ensuring greater efficiency and effectiveness in the use of public resources. 4 pilot audits are in progress, covering public works, welfare, environment and education projects.

  • Romania – transparency in public sector recruitment

The website was set up to counter corruption and lack of transparency in civil service recruitment. takes recruitment data from public organisations and e-mails it to more than 20,000 subscribers in a weekly newsletter. As a result, it has become more difficult to manipulate the recruitment process.”

Democracy and Political Ignorance

Essay by Ilya Somin in Special issue on Is Smaller Government Smarter Government? of Cato Unbound: ” Democracy is supposed to be rule of the people, by the people, and for the people. But in order to rule effectively, the people need political knowledge. If they know little or nothing about government, it becomes difficult to hold political leaders accountable for their performance. Unfortunately, public knowledge about politics is disturbingly low. In addition, the public also often does a poor job of evaluating the political information they do know. This state of affairs has persisted despite rising education levels, increased availability of information thanks to modern technology, and even rising IQ scores. It is mostly the result of rational behavior, not stupidity. Such widespread and persistent political ignorance and irrationality strengthens the case for limiting and decentralizing the power of government….
Political ignorance in America is deep and widespread. The current government shutdown fight provides some good examples. Although Obamacare is at the center of that fight and much other recent political controversy, 44% percent of the public do not even realize it is still the law. Some 80 percent, according to a recent Kaiser survey, say they have heard “nothing at all” or “only a little” about the controversial insurance exchanges that are a major part of the law….
Some people react to data like the above by thinking that the voters must be stupid. Butpolitical ignorance is actually rational for most of the public, including most smart people. If your only reason to follow politics is to be a better voter, that turns out not be much of a reason at all. That is because there is very little chance that your vote will actually make a difference to the outcome of an election (about 1 in 60 million in a presidential race, for example).2 For most of us, it is rational to devote very little time to learning about politics, and instead focus on other activities that are more interesting or more likely to be useful. As former British Prime Minister Tony Blair puts it, “[t]he single hardest thing for a practising politician to understand is that most people, most  of the time, don’t give politics a first thought all day long. Or if they do, it is with a sigh…. before going back to worrying about the kids, the parents, the mortgage, the boss, their friends, their weight, their health, sex and rock ‘n’ roll.”3 Most people don’t precisely calculate the odds that their vote will make a difference. But they probably have an intuitive sense that the chances are very small, and act accordingly.
In the book, I also consider why many rationally ignorant people often still bother to vote.4 The key factor is that voting is a lot cheaper and less time-consuming than studying political issues. For many, it is rational to take the time to vote, but without learning much about the issues at stake….
Political ignorance is far from the only factor that must be considered in deciding the appropriate size, scope, and centralization of government. For example, some large-scale issues, such as global warming, are simply too big to be effectively addressed by lower-level governments or private organizations. Democracy and Political Ignorance is not a complete theory of the proper role of government in society. But it does suggest that the problem of political ignorance should lead us to limit and decentralize government more than we would otherwise.”
See also:  Ilya Somin, Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government is Smarter, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013)

Defining Open Data

Open Knowledge Foundation Blog: “Open data is data that can be freely used, shared and built-on by anyone, anywhere, for any purpose. This is the summary of the full Open Definition which the Open Knowledge Foundation created in 2005 to provide both a succinct explanation and a detailed definition of open data.
As the open data movement grows, and even more governments and organisations sign up to open data, it becomes ever more important that there is a clear and agreed definition for what “open data” means if we are to realise the full benefits of openness, and avoid the risks of creating incompatibility between projects and splintering the community.

Open can apply to information from any source and about any topic. Anyone can release their data under an open licence for free use by and benefit to the public. Although we may think mostly about government and public sector bodies releasing public information such as budgets or maps, or researchers sharing their results data and publications, any organisation can open information (corporations, universities, NGOs, startups, charities, community groups and individuals).

Read more about different kinds of data in our one page introduction to open data
There is open information in transport, science, products, education, sustainability, maps, legislation, libraries, economics, culture, development, business, design, finance …. So the explanation of what open means applies to all of these information sources and types. Open may also apply both to data – big data and small data – or to content, like images, text and music!
So here we set out clearly what open means, and why this agreed definition is vital for us to collaborate, share and scale as open data and open content grow and reach new communities.

What is Open?

The full Open Definition provides a precise definition of what open data is. There are 2 important elements to openness:

  • Legal openness: you must be allowed to get the data legally, to build on it, and to share it. Legal openness is usually provided by applying an appropriate (open) license which allows for free access to and reuse of the data, or by placing data into the public domain.
  • Technical openness: there should be no technical barriers to using that data. For example, providing data as printouts on paper (or as tables in PDF documents) makes the information extremely difficult to work with. So the Open Definition has various requirements for “technical openness,” such as requiring that data be machine readable and available in bulk.”…