Digital engagement: time to shift attention toward use and usefulness

Geoff Mulgan: “The last few years have brought a cornucopia of innovation around data, with millions of data sets opened up, and big campaigns around transparency, all interacting with the results of a glut of hackathons, appathons and the like. Linked to this has been the explosion of creativity around digital tools for civic engagement and local government….
There are also big questions to ask about digital technologies and public services – and in particular why so few public services have been radically redesigned. This has been talked about for as long as I can remember – and it’s not hard to map out how a transformed health, welfare or transport system could work if you started afresh. But with a few exceptions (like tax) this isn’t happening in any of the big public services anywhere. I’ll be writing some blogs soon about how we might accelerate this kind of systemic change.
In the meantime there are some more pragmatic questions to ask about what is and isn’t working.  A pattern is becoming clear which poses a challenge to the enthusiasts, and to funders like us.  In essence it’s this: there has been brilliant progress on the supply side – opening up data, and multiplying tools and apps of all kinds. But there has been far less progress on the demand and use side. The result is that thousands of promising data sets, apps and sites remain unused; and a great deal of creativity and energy has gone to waste.
The reasons are fairly obvious when you think about it. This is a movement driven by enthusiasts who have tended to assume that supply will create its own demand (sometimes it does – but not often).  Most of the practitioners are interested in the technical challenges of design, and a measure of their success is that for most applications there are readily accessible tools now available. Yet the much bigger challenges lie around use: how to develop attractive brands; how to promote and market; how to shape design to fit how people will actually use the services; how to build living communities.”

Citizen Engagement and City Budgets

Governing Magazine: “Inviting public comment early in the budget process, and doing so in multiple ways, is closely associated with better performance outcomes, according to a new study in The American Review of Public Administration.

State and local government meetings, from a state agency to a county board, are notoriously low in attendance. Some governments have reacted with experiments to spur better public involvement, especially in drafting budgets. … Despite this patchwork of efforts to involve citizens, public administrators still don’t know exactly when to seek public input and how it might affect the day-to-day work of governing. So Hai Guo and Milena Neshkova, both assistant professors in the Department of Public Administration at Florida International University, set out to study the relationship between citizen participation in budgeting and measurable performance outcomes. Their analysis relied on 2005 survey data on state transportation agencies and their civic engagement strategies (focus groups, for example) across four stages in the budget process.
Because their research focused solely on transportation agencies, they looked at transportation-related outcomes that governments value: fewer road-related fatalities and fewer poor-quality roads. They took into account external factors, such as level of funding, that might account for differences in fatality rates or road conditions. They found that not only is there an inverse relationship (more attempts at civic engagement mean fewer fatalities and low-quality roads), but that the relationship is statistically significant. In other words, the result isn’t due to chance.
More importantly, the association was strongest at the earliest stage in the process. “You need to engage them early. I think that’s the point we’re trying to make,” Prof. Guo said. Since the analysis was specific to state transportation departments, Prof. Guo says he’d like to see if the same pattern would emerge at other levels of government.”

Map of the internet could make it stronger

From the Scientist: “In many ways the internet is like another country. It has its own communities, cultures and even currency. But its infrastructure – the fibre optic cables that span the globe, and the thousands of buildings housing servers and routers – passes through almost every nation…. Previous attempts to map the internet have been from within, using “sniffer” software to report the IP addresses of devices visited along a particular route, which, in theory, can then be translated into geographical locations. But this approach doesn’t work,… Barford and Roughan head up two separate projects that are attempting to change that. Instead of relying on sniffers, they are scouring ISP databases to find published information about local networks, and piecing these together into a global map. Roughan’s Internet Topology Zoo is a growing collection of maps of individual networks. Barford’s Internet Atlas expands on this, adding crucial buildings and links between networks to flesh out the map. So far the Internet Atlas, perhaps the most comprehensive map of the physical internet, maps 10,000 such structures and 13,000 connections.”

The promise of Open Data to solve Big Problems

Tal Kopan in Politico: “The term open data brings to mind images of next bus apps and geeks poring over data sets about potholes, but advocates say the next phase could go far beyond the smartphone — changing the way cities and governments tackle big problems and even how they work together.
Experts see increased collaboration and universalized standards as upcoming steps to take open data’s recent success stories to the next level — and keep moving it toward its next act, which could involve addressing issues as complex as climate change, education and public health”

A new vocabulary for the 21st Century: Datafication

Kenneth Neil Cukier, data-editor at the Economist and co-author of  “Big Data”: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think (listen to an interview with Kenneth on NPR) recently explained at Big Think a new term that describes how data mediates our lives : Datafication.

“Datafication refers to the fact that we’re looking at more aspects of life that we never actually understood as being informational before.  And finding out that that in fact there is an informational quality to it that we can render into a data format. So what we’re seeing with social media companies is they’re actually datafying aspects of the life that we never really saw that could be datafied. So for example Facebook datafies our friendships. Twitter datafies our whispers or maybe our stray thoughts.  And LinkedIn datafies our professional contacts.  And more and more and more are we seeing that we’re able to take the daily interactions of living, things that we never really saw that can be rendered into a data format and we’re putting it into data formats.”

Potential of datafication for re-imagining governance? Kenneth:

“you can just use your imagination and think of some of the extraordinary uses.  One way that we’re doing it is looking at who contacts whom on Twitter and who’s one’s followers are.  And we’re able to identify that, and we never known this before that subpopulations exist that are either immunized for the flu or are not.  Now it’s a public health issue.  The whole point of vaccinations is that you take a broad population, you vaccinate many but not all and everyone is covered. What we’ve just now learned with Twitter is that this idea of herd immunity might not be the case because there’s whole subgroups of the population that all don’t get vaccinated yet they all hang out together.  They do virtually and we’re seeing that those virtual ties are also physical ties.  I want to stress this sounds like it might be an intuitive thing.  It’s not.  It sounds like this might just be a nice thing to know, it’s deadly important.  It’s very serious.”

Watch the Video ofKenneth on Datafication: