Open data policies, their implementation and impact: A framework for comparison

Paper by A Zuiderwijk, M Janssen in the Government Information Quarterly: “In developing open data policies, governments aim to stimulate and guide the publication of government data and to gain advantages from its use. Currently there is a multiplicity of open data policies at various levels of government, whereas very little systematic and structured research has been done on the issues that are covered by open data policies, their intent and actual impact. Furthermore, no suitable framework for comparing open data policies is available, as open data is a recent phenomenon and is thus in an early stage of development. In order to help bring about a better understanding of the common and differentiating elements in the policies and to identify the factors affecting the variation in policies, this paper develops a framework for comparing open data policies. The framework includes the factors of environment and context, policy content, performance indicators and public values. Using this framework, seven Dutch governmental policies at different government levels are compared. The comparison shows both similarities and differences among open data policies, providing opportunities to learn from each other’s policies. The findings suggest that current policies are rather inward looking, open data policies can be improved by collaborating with other organizations, focusing on the impact of the policy, stimulating the use of open data and looking at the need to create a culture in which publicizing data is incorporated in daily working processes. The findings could contribute to the development of new open data policies and the improvement of existing open data policies.”

Web Science: Understanding the Emergence of Macro-Level Features on the World Wide Web

Monograph by Kieron O’Hara, Noshir S. Contractor, Wendy Hall, James A. Hendler and Nigel Shadbolt in Foundations and Trends in Web Sciences: “Web Science considers the development of Web Science since the publication of ‘A Framework for Web Science’ (Berners-Lee et al., 2006). This monograph argues that the requirement for understanding should ideally be accompanied by some measure of control, which makes Web Science crucial in the future provision of tools for managing our interactions, our politics, our economics, our entertainment, and – not least – our knowledge and data sharing…
In this monograph we consider the development of Web Science since the launch of this journal and its inaugural publication ‘A Framework for Web Science’ [44]. The theme of emergence is discussed as the characteristic phenomenon of Web-scale applications, where many unrelated micro-level actions and decisions, uninformed by knowledge about the macro-level, still produce noticeable and coherent effects at the scale of the Web. A model of emergence is mapped onto the multitheoretical multilevel (MTML) model of communication networks explained in [252]. Four specific types of theoretical problem are outlined. First, there is the need to explain local action. Second, the global patterns that form when local actions are repeated at scale have to be detected and understood. Third, those patterns feed back into the local, with intricate and often fleeting causal connections to be traced. Finally, as Web Science is an engineering discipline, issues of control of this feedback must be addressed. The idea of a social machine is introduced, where networked interactions at scale can help to achieve goals for people and social groups in civic society; an important aim of Web Science is to understand how such networks can operate, and how they can control the effects they produce on their own environment.”

Reinventing Participation: Civic Agency and the Web Environment

New paper by Peter Dahlgren: “Participation is a key concept in the vocabulary of democracy, and can encompass a variety of dimensions. Moreover, it can be shaped by a range of different factors; my emphasis here is on the significance of the web environment in this regard. I first situate participation against the backdrop of democracy’s contemporary developments, including the onslaught of neolibealism. From there I offer a set of parameters that can help us grasp participation both conceptually and empirically: trajectory, visibility, voice , and sociality, and relate these to the affordances of the digital media. Thereafter I explore the cultural resources necessary for the facilitation of participation; for this I make use of a six-dimensional model of civic cultures. My discussion focuses on two of the dimensions, practices and identities; I again relate these to the web environment. I conclude with a dilemma that online democratic participation faces, namely what I call the isolation of the solo sphere, yet affirm that we are justified in maintaining a guarded optimism about the future of participation.”

Selected Readings on Crowdsourcing Data

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 data was originally published in 2013.

As institutions seek to improve decision-making through data and put public data to use to improve the lives of citizens, new tools and projects are allowing citizens to play a role in both the collection and utilization of data. Participatory sensing and other citizen data collection initiatives, notably in the realm of disaster response, are allowing citizens to crowdsource important data, often using smartphones, that would be either impossible or burdensomely time-consuming for institutions to collect themselves. Civic hacking, often performed in hackathon events, on the other hand, is a growing trend in which governments encourage citizens to transform data from government and other sources into useful tools to benefit the public good.

Selected Reading List (in alphabetical order)

Annotated Selected Reading List (in alphabetical order)

Baraniuk, Chris. “Power Politechs.” New Scientist 218, no. 2923 (June 29, 2013): 36–39.

  • In this article, Baraniuk discusses civic hackers, “an army of volunteer coders who are challenging preconceptions about hacking and changing the way your government operates. In a time of plummeting budgets and efficiency drives, those in power have realised they needn’t always rely on slow-moving, expensive outsourcing and development to improve public services. Instead, they can consider running a hackathon, at which tech-savvy members of the public come together to create apps and other digital tools that promise to enhace the provision of healthcare, schools or policing.”
  • While recognizing that “civic hacking has established a pedigree that demonstrates its potential for positive impact,” Baraniuk argues that a “more rigorous debate over how this activity should evolve, or how authorities ought to engage in it” is needed.

Barnett, Brandon, Muki Hansteen Izora, and Jose Sia. “Civic Hackathon Challenges Design Principles: Making Data Relevant and Useful for Individuals and Communities.” Hack for Change,

  • In this paper, researchers from Intel Labs offer “guiding principles to support the efforts of local civic hackathon organizers and participants as they seek to design actionable challenges and build useful solutions that will positively benefit their communities.”
  • The authors proposed design principles are:
    • Focus on the specific needs and concerns of people or institutions in the local community. Solve their problems and challenges by combining different kinds of data.
    • Seek out data far and wide (local, municipal, state, institutional, non-profits, companies) that is relevant to the concern or problem you are trying to solve.
    • Keep it simple! This can’t be overstated. Focus [on] making data easily understood and useful to those who will use your application or service.
    • Enable users to collaborate and form new communities and alliances around data.

Buhrmester, Michael, Tracy Kwang, and Samuel D. Gosling. “Amazon’s Mechanical Turk A New Source of Inexpensive, Yet High-Quality, Data?” Perspectives on Psychological Science 6, no. 1 (January 1, 2011): 3–5.

  • This article examines the capability of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to act a source of data for researchers, in addition to its traditional role as a microtasking platform.
  • The authors examine the demographics of MTurkers and find that “MTurk participants are slightly more demographically diverse than are standard Internet samples and are significantly more diverse than typical American college samples; (b) participation is affected by compensation rate and task length, but participants can still be recruited rapidly and inexpensively; (c) realistic compensation rates do not affect data quality; and (d) the data obtained are at least as reliable as those obtained via traditional methods.”
  • The paper concludes that, just as MTurk can be a strong tool for crowdsourcing tasks, data derived from MTurk can be high quality while also being inexpensive and obtained rapidly.

Goodchild, Michael F., and J. Alan Glennon. “Crowdsourcing Geographic Information for Disaster Response: a Research Frontier.” International Journal of Digital Earth 3, no. 3 (2010): 231–241.

  • This article examines issues of data quality in the face of the new phenomenon of geographic information being generated by citizens, in order to examine whether this data can play a role in emergency management.
  • The authors argue that “[d]ata quality is a major concern, since volunteered information is asserted and carries none of the assurances that lead to trust in officially created data.”
  • Due to the fact that time is crucial during emergencies, the authors argue that, “the risks associated with volunteered information are often outweighed by the benefits of its use.”
  • The paper examines four wildfires in Santa Barbara in 2007-2009 to discuss current challenges with volunteered geographical data, and concludes that further research is required to answer how volunteer citizens can be used to provide effective assistance to emergency managers and responders.

Hudson-Smith, Andrew, Michael Batty, Andrew Crooks, and Richard Milton. “Mapping for the Masses Accessing Web 2.0 Through Crowdsourcing.” Social Science Computer Review 27, no. 4 (November 1, 2009): 524–538.

  • This article describes the way in which “we are harnessing the power of web 2.0 technologies to create new approaches to collecting, mapping, and sharing geocoded data.”
  • The authors examine GMapCreator and MapTube, which allow users to do a range of map-related functions such as create new maps, archive existing maps, and share or produce bottom-up maps through crowdsourcing.
  • They conclude that “these tools are helping to define a neogeography that is essentially ‘mapping for the masses,’ while noting that there are many issues of quality, accuracy, copyright, and trust that will influence the impact of these tools on map-based communication.”

Kanhere, Salil S. “Participatory Sensing: Crowdsourcing Data from Mobile Smartphones in Urban Spaces.” In Distributed Computing and Internet Technology, edited by Chittaranjan Hota and Pradip K. Srimani, 19–26. Lecture Notes in Computer Science 7753. Springer Berlin Heidelberg. 2013.

  • This paper provides a comprehensive overview of participatory sensing — a “new paradigm for monitoring the urban landscape” in which “ordinary citizens can collect multi-modal data streams from the surrounding environment using their mobile devices and share the same using existing communications infrastructure.”
  • In addition to examining a number of innovative applications of participatory sensing, Kanhere outlines the following key research challenges:
    • Dealing with incomplete samples
    •  Inferring user context
    • Protecting user privacy
    • Evaluating data trustworthiness
    • Conserving energy

Fort McMoney Online Game-Documentary Puts Fate Of Alberta Oilsands In Players' Hands

The Huffington Post: “The fate of the Alberta oilsands is now in the hands of the people. An interactive web documentary-game, titled “Fort McMoney,” launched Monday, inviting players into an immersive online experience set far north in the oil town of Fort McMurray, Alta.
Players explore the city and connect with key players in the oil industry, environmental activists as well as those living and working in the city and surrounding oil patch. Players learn the town’s environmental, cultural, political, social and economic concerns.
Every week for four weeks, players will explore different themes and issues of concern in the oil patch, virtually walking through the city to interview residents, executives and activists. At the end of each week, players vote in a referendum and try to convince other players of their opinions. The results of the referendum will decide the course of the game – for instance, users may decide to make the environment a priority over economy, or vice versa.
Votes will be tallied each Sunday evening, and Fort McMurray will change accordingly…
Fort McMoney, a joint project by the National Film Board and Montreal-based Toxa and Franco-German TV network Arte, is available in English, French and German. It can be played on a computer browser or tablet and requires players to register with Facebook or Twitter beyond the first segment.”

'Fix-It Squads': prototyping a way to better work with business in fixing problems

DesignGov (AU): “Can you really understand a problem if you have no experience with it? And can you really fix a problem if you don’t understand it?
The public sector plays a key role in the business environment, and sometimes that includes the generation and the resolution of problems faced by businesses. Our research as part of the business and government interactions project suggests that when businesses face issues that relate to multiple government agencies and/or multiple jurisdictions, it can be difficult for them to convey their experience. A problem that is very real for them can seem distributed and minor to the parts of the public sector that are connected with it. It is also difficult for public servants to get across the ‘whole’ of the problem and what can be done about it, when the solution may require coordination across agencies and where it may be hard to prioritise competing issues.
Through the ‘Fix-It Squads’ concept, we’re investigating how problem resolution processes might be improved:

  • To give public servants the opportunity to become immersed in the problem at hand and to share in the lived experience of it
  • To give businesses the opportunity to explain and show the problem as they experience it, rather than in the terms of public sector agencies (who might be contributing to the problem).

We are seeking your help and participation in prototyping. This post gives a quick overview of the ‘Fix-It Squads’ concept, asks for your help with the prototyping, and provides an expanded explanation of what Fix-It Squads might involve and why something like them are needed (in addition to the description provided in the Lost in Translation report and the associated prototyping prospectus).
FixIt Squads Synopsis

What do you know?

Article in the Financial Times by Eric Openshaw John Hagel: “Talent holds the key to company performance. From business units to Finance to IT, getting the right skills to the right place at the right time is a constant challenge. Now consider that workplace technologies are becoming obsolete faster, and the useful life of many skills is shorter. Workers at all levels need to be able to learn and relearn rapidly to adapt to and anticipate changing demands. Recruitment and retention initiatives can’t address the need, nor can standardised training programs and knowledge management.
New technologies offer an opportunity to rethink both talent development and traditional knowledge management and integrate learning directly into the daily work experience. Virtual platforms enable workers to connect with each other to solve problems across distributed work settings and beyond organisational boundaries.
The preponderance of sensors and advanced analytics today make it more possible than ever to collect and share individual’s real-time performance in a variety of settings. Sensors and the integration of social platforms into work allows for knowledge and experiences to be captured automatically, as they occur, rather than depending on compliance and coerced participation to populate reputation profiles and knowledge management databases. These technologies support rich, context-specific learning and participation driven by momentum as users discover and create value.
Training programs and knowledge management have a place, but they may not deliver the skilled workers needed to the right place and time in a rapidly changing environment. Pre-developed content quickly becomes obsolete or lacks the context to make it relevant to the individual. Perhaps more importantly, classroom training and knowledge databases tend to focus on the commonalities between work, the standard processes and practices, when in fact workers spend most of their days dealing with the exceptions that don’t fit into the standard processes and systems, whether it’s a one-off shipping request or a customer who can’t make your software work with their hardware. Workers typically get better at handling the non-standard aspects of their work through on-the-job experience…

In a recent paper, we detailed nine principles that help to create the type of environment that fosters learning and improvement. The following three principles demonstrate how technology can play an important role in enabling this on-the-job learning and in amplifying the learning, especially across a virtual workforce.

Real-time feedback for individuals and teams. For workers to improve performance and learn what works or doesn’t work, they need to have a context-specific understanding of what is expected and how they are doing relative to others, in the moment rather than three- or six-months down the line.
At virtual call-centre LiveOps, the independent agents see customer and program-specific metrics on an online dashboard. These metrics define the level of performance necessary for agents to remain eligible to take calls for a program and are continuously updated, providing real-time feedback after each call so that agents can see how they are doing relative to their peer group and where they can improve. This level of performance data transparency creates a meritocracy, as agents are compared to their peers and rewarded based on their relative performance.
Smart capture and share. In any work setting, a great deal of information is generated and exchanged in meetings, conversations, instant messages, and email. Easy access to that information helps foster collaboration, solve problems, and improve business processes. At SAP Community Network (SCN), intelligent cataloguing of insights from discussion forums, tagged for searchability, helps make the right information available at the right time to those who need it without requiring the burdensome documentation associated with typical knowledge management. Other users can search for solutions in the context of the original problem posed, as well as through related discussions that may have led to an ultimate solution. Instead of days of internal debate or experimentation, the typical time to receive a response is 17 minutes.
Helping workers make relevant connections. In a typical organisation, physical or virtual, it can be difficult to know who everyone is and what their experience, expertise, and interests are, and the typical knowledge and resource management tools that require individuals to maintain profiles rarely see the level of continuing compliance and participation to make them useful. Instead, workers tend to fall back on relationships. They seek help and learn from those already known to them.
Now, virtual platforms, such as the one used by Odesk, a global online workplace, automatically generate detailed, up-to-date profiles. These profiles include the contractor’s cumulative and historical ratings and hourly wages for each completed project as well as the scores for any tests or certifications. The same type of automatic, action-based reputation profiles can be used internally to facilitate assessing and connecting with the right co-workers for the job at hand…”

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.”

Regulatory Democracy Reconsidered: The Policy Impact of Public Participation Requirements

Paper by Neal D. Woods in the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory :  “A broad range of procedural mechanisms designed to promote public involvement in regulatory decision making have been instituted at all levels of government. Depending upon the literature one consults, one could conclude that these procedures (1) enhance regulatory stringency by fostering access by previously underrepresented groups, (2) reduce regulatory stringency by institutionalizing access by regulated industries, (3) could either increase or decrease stringency depending on the relative strength of organized interests in the agency’s external environment, or (4) have no effect. This study investigates whether mechanisms designed to promote public involvement in administrative rulemaking affect the stringency of US state environmental regulation. The results suggest that requirements to provide public notice of agency rulemaking do not have a significant effect on the regulatory compliance costs imposed on industry, but mechanisms that provide direct access to rulemaking processes serve to decrease these costs. This effect is evident for access both to the agencies promulgating environmental regulations and to external entities reviewing these regulations. For promulgating agencies, the effect does not appear to be conditional on the relative power of societal interests. The results provide some evidence, however, that political officials respond to the strength of environmental and industry groups when reviewing agency regulations.”

When Nudges Fail: Slippery Defaults

New paper by Lauren E. Willis “Inspired by the success of “automatic enrollment” in increasing participation in defined contribution retirement savings plans, policymakers have put similar policy defaults in place in a variety of other contexts, from checking account overdraft coverage to home-mortgage escrows. Internet privacy appears poised to be the next arena. But how broadly applicable are the results obtained in the retirement savings context? Evidence from other contexts indicates two problems with this approach: the defaults put in place by the law are not always sticky, and the people who opt out may be those who would benefit the most from the default. Examining the new default for consumer checking account overdraft coverage reveals that firms can systematically undermine each of the mechanisms that might otherwise operate to make defaults sticky. Comparing the retirement-savings default to the overdraft default, four boundary conditions on the use of defaults as a policy tool are apparent: policy defaults will not be sticky when (1) motivated firms oppose them, (2) these firms have access to the consumer, (3) consumers find the decision environment confusing, and (4) consumer preferences are uncertain. Due to constitutional and institutional constraints, government regulation of the libertarian-paternalism variety is unlikely to be capable of overcoming these bounds. Therefore, policy defaults intended to protect individuals when firms have the motivation and means to move consumers out of the default are unlikely to be effective unless accompanied by substantive regulation. Moreover, the same is likely to be true of “nudges” more generally, when motivated firms oppose them.”