Sharing Data Is a Form of Corporate Philanthropy

Matt Stempeck in HBR Blog:  “Ever since the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters was signed in 1999, satellite companies like DMC International Imaging have had a clear protocol with which to provide valuable imagery to public actors in times of crisis. In a single week this February, DMCii tasked its fleet of satellites on flooding in the United Kingdom, fires in India, floods in Zimbabwe, and snow in South Korea. Official crisis response departments and relevant UN departments can request on-demand access to the visuals captured by these “eyes in the sky” to better assess damage and coordinate relief efforts.

DMCii is a private company, yet it provides enormous value to the public and social sectors simply by periodically sharing its data.
Back on Earth, companies create, collect, and mine data in their day-to-day business. This data has quickly emerged as one of this century’s most vital assets. Public sector and social good organizations may not have access to the same amount, quality, or frequency of data. This imbalance has inspired a new category of corporate giving foreshadowed by the 1999 Space Charter: data philanthropy.
The satellite imagery example is an area of obvious societal value, but data philanthropy holds even stronger potential closer to home, where a wide range of private companies could give back in meaningful ways by contributing data to public actors. Consider two promising contexts for data philanthropy: responsive cities and academic research.
The centralized institutions of the 20th century allowed for the most sophisticated economic and urban planning to date. But in recent decades, the information revolution has helped the private sector speed ahead in data aggregation, analysis, and applications. It’s well known that there’s enormous value in real-time usage of data in the private sector, but there are similarly huge gains to be won in the application of real-time data to mitigate common challenges.
What if sharing economy companies shared their real-time housing, transit, and economic data with city governments or public interest groups? For example, Uber maintains a “God’s Eye view” of every driver on the road in a city:
Imagine combining this single data feed with an entire portfolio of real-time information. An early leader in this space is the City of Chicago’s urban data dashboard, WindyGrid. The dashboard aggregates an ever-growing variety of public datasets to allow for more intelligent urban management.
Over time, we could design responsive cities that react to this data. A responsive city is one where services, infrastructure, and even policies can flexibly respond to the rhythms of its denizens in real-time. Private sector data contributions could greatly accelerate these nascent efforts.
Data philanthropy could similarly benefit academia. Access to data remains an unfortunate barrier to entry for many researchers. The result is that only researchers with access to certain data, such as full-volume social media streams, can analyze and produce knowledge from this compelling information. Twitter, for example, sells access to a range of real-time APIs to marketing platforms, but the price point often exceeds researchers’ budgets. To accelerate the pursuit of knowledge, Twitter has piloted a program called Data Grants offering access to segments of their real-time global trove to select groups of researchers. With this program, academics and other researchers can apply to receive access to relevant bulk data downloads, such as an period of time before and after an election, or a certain geographic area.
Humanitarian response, urban planning, and academia are just three sectors within which private data can be donated to improve the public condition. There are many more possible applications possible, but few examples to date. For companies looking to expand their corporate social responsibility initiatives, sharing data should be part of the conversation…
Companies considering data philanthropy can take the following steps:

  • Inventory the information your company produces, collects, and analyzes. Consider which data would be easy to share and which data will require long-term effort.
  • Think who could benefit from this information. Who in your community doesn’t have access to this information?
  • Who could be harmed by the release of this data? If the datasets are about people, have they consented to its release? (i.e. don’t pull a Facebook emotional manipulation experiment).
  • Begin conversations with relevant public agencies and nonprofit partners to get a sense of the sort of information they might find valuable and their capacity to work with the formats you might eventually make available.
  • If you expect an onslaught of interest, an application process can help qualify partnership opportunities to maximize positive impact relative to time invested in the program.
  • Consider how you’ll handle distribution of the data to partners. Even if you don’t have the resources to set up an API, regular releases of bulk data could still provide enormous value to organizations used to relying on less-frequently updated government indices.
  • Consider your needs regarding privacy and anonymization. Strip the data of anything remotely resembling personally identifiable information (here are some guidelines).
  • If you’re making data available to researchers, plan to allow researchers to publish their results without obstruction. You might also require them to share the findings with the world under Open Access terms….”

Believe the hype: Big data can have a big social impact

Annika Small at the Guardian: “Given all the hype around so called big data at the moment, it would be easy to dismiss it as nothing more than the latest technology buzzword. This would be a mistake, given that the application and interpretation of huge – often publicly available – data sets is already supporting new models of creativity, innovation and engagement.
To date, stories of big data’s progress and successes have tended to come from government and the private sector, but we’ve heard little about its relevance to social organisations. Yet big data can fuel big social change.
It’s already playing a vital role in the charitable sector. Some social organisations are using existing open government data to better target their services, to improve advocacy and fundraising, and to support knowledge sharing and collaboration between different charities and agencies. Crowdsourcing of open data also offers a new way for not-for-profits to gather intelligence, and there is a wide range of freely available online tools to help them analyse the information.
However, realising the potential of big and open data presents a number of technical and organisational challenges for social organisations. Many don’t have the required skills, awareness and investment to turn big data to their advantage. They also tend to lack the access to examples that might help demystify the technicalities and focus on achievable results.
Overcoming these challenges can be surprisingly simple: Keyfund, for example, gained insight into what made for a successful application to their scheme through using a free, online tool to create word clouds out of all the text in their application forms. Many social organisations could use this same technique to better understand the large volume of unstructured text that they accumulate – in doing so, they would be “doing big data” (albeit in a small way). At the other end of the scale, Global Giving has developed its own sophisticated set of analytical tools to better understand the 57,000+ “stories” gathered from its network.
Innovation often happens when different disciplines collide and it’s becoming apparent that most value – certainly most social value – is likely to be created at the intersection of government, private and social sector data. That could be the combination of data from different sectors, or better “data collaboration” within sectors.
The Housing Association Charitable Trust (HACT) has produced two original tools that demonstrate this. Its Community Insight tool combines data from different sectors, allowing housing providers easily to match information about their stock to a large store of well-maintained open government figures. Meanwhile, its Housing Big Data programme is building a huge dataset by combining stats from 16 different housing providers across the UK. While Community Insight allows each organisation to gain better individual understanding of their communities (measuring well-being and deprivation levels, tracking changes over time, identifying hotspots of acute need), Housing Big Data is making progress towards a much richer network of understanding, providing a foundation for the sector to collaboratively identify challenges and quantify the impact of their interventions.
Alongside this specific initiative from HACT, it’s also exciting to see programmes such as 360giving, which forge connections between a range of private and social enterprises, and lays foundations for UK social investors to be a significant source of information over the next decade. Certainly, The Big Lottery Fund’s publication of open data late last year is a milestone which also highlights how far we have to travel as a sector before we are truly “data-rich”.
At Nominet Trust, we have produced the Social Tech Guide to demonstrate the scale and diversity of social value being generated internationally – much of which is achieved through harnessing the power of big data. From Knewton creating personally tailored learning programmes, to Cellslider using the power of the crowd to advance cancer research, there is no shortage of inspiration. The UN’s Global Pulse programme is another great example, with its focus on how we can combine private and public sources to pin down the size and shape of a social challenge, and calibrate our collective response.
These examples of data-driven social change demonstrate the huge opportunities for social enterprises to harness technology to generate insights, to drive more effective action and to fuel social change. If we are to realise this potential, we need to continue to stretch ourselves as social enterprises and social investors.”

Selected Readings on Big 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 big data was originally published in 2014.

Big Data refers to the wide-scale collection, aggregation, storage, analysis and use of data. Government is increasingly in control of a massive amount of raw data that, when analyzed and put to use, can lead to new insights on everything from public opinion to environmental concerns. The burgeoning literature on Big Data argues that it generates value by: creating transparency; enabling experimentation to discover needs, expose variability, and improve performance; segmenting populations to customize actions; replacing/supporting human decision making with automated algorithms; and innovating new business models, products and services. The insights drawn from data analysis can also be visualized in a manner that passes along relevant information, even to those without the tech savvy to understand the data on its own terms (see The GovLab Selected Readings on Data Visualization).

Selected Reading List (in alphabetical order)

Annotated Selected Reading List (in alphabetical order)

Australian Government Information Management Office. The Australian Public Service Big Data Strategy: Improved Understanding through Enhanced Data-analytics Capability Strategy Report. August 2013.

  • This Big Data Strategy produced for Australian Government senior executives with responsibility for delivering services and developing policy is aimed at ingraining in government officials that the key to increasing the value of big data held by government is the effective use of analytics. Essentially, “the value of big data lies in [our] ability to extract insights and make better decisions.”
  • This positions big data as a national asset that can be used to “streamline service delivery, create opportunities for innovation, identify new service and policy approaches as well as supporting the effective delivery of existing programs across a broad range of government operations.”

Bollier, David. The Promise and Peril of Big Data. The Aspen Institute, Communications and Society Program, 2010.

  • This report captures insights from the 2009 Roundtable exploring uses of Big Data within a number of important consumer behavior and policy implication contexts.
  • The report concludes that, “Big Data presents many exciting opportunities to improve modern society. There are incalculable opportunities to make scientific research more productive, and to accelerate discovery and innovation. People can use new tools to help improve their health and well-being, and medical care can be made more efficient and effective. Government, too, has a great stake in using large databases to improve the delivery of government services and to monitor for threats to national security.
  • However, “Big Data also presents many formidable challenges to government and citizens precisely because data technologies are becoming so pervasive, intrusive and difficult to understand. How shall society protect itself against those who would misuse or abuse large databases? What new regulatory systems, private-law innovations or social practices will be capable of controlling anti-social behaviors–and how should we even define what is socially and legally acceptable when the practices enabled by Big Data are so novel and often arcane?”

Boyd, Danah and Kate Crawford. “Six Provocations for Big Data.” A Decade in Internet Time: Symposium on the Dynamics of the Internet and Society. September 2011

  • In this paper, Boyd and Crawford raise challenges to unchecked assumptions and biases regarding big data. The paper makes a number of assertions about the “computational culture” of big data and pushes back against those who consider big data to be a panacea.
  • The authors’ provocations for big data are:
    • Automating Research Changes the Definition of Knowledge
    • Claims to Objectivity and Accuracy are Misleading
    • Big Data is not always Better Data
    • Not all Data is Equivalent
    • Just Because it is accessible doesn’t make it ethical
    • Limited Access to Big Data creates New Digital Divide

The Economist Intelligence Unit. Big Data and the Democratisation of Decisions. October 2012.

  • This report from the Economist Intelligence Unit focuses on the positive impact of big data adoption in the private sector, but its insights can also be applied to the use of big data in governance.
  • The report argues that innovation can be spurred by democratizing access to data, allowing a diversity of stakeholders to “tap data, draw lessons and make business decisions,” which in turn helps companies and institutions respond to new trends and intelligence at varying levels of decision-making power.

Manyika, James, Michael Chui, Brad Brown, Jacques Bughin, Richard Dobbs, Charles Roxburgh, and Angela Hung Byers. Big Data: The Next Frontier for Innovation, Competition, and Productivity.  McKinsey & Company. May 2011.

  • This report argues that big data “will become a key basis of competition, underpinning new waves of productivity growth, innovation, and consumer surplus, and that “leaders in every sector will have to grapple with the implications of big data.” 
  • The report offers five broad ways in which using big data can create value:
    • First, big data can unlock significant value by making information transparent and usable at much higher frequency.
    • Second, as organizations create and store more transactional data in digital form, they can collect more accurate and detailed performance information on everything from product inventories to sick days, and therefore expose variability and boost performance.
    • Third, big data allows ever-narrower segmentation of customers and therefore much more precisely tailored products or services.
    • Fourth, big sophisticated analytics can substantially improve decision-making.
    • Finally, big data can be used to improve the development of the next generation of products and services.

The Partnership for Public Service and the IBM Center for The Business of Government. “From Data to Decisions II: Building an Analytics Culture.” October 17, 2012.

  • This report discusses strategies for better leveraging data analysis to aid decision-making. The authors argue that, “Organizations that are successful at launching or expanding analytics program…systematically examine their processes and activities to ensure that everything they do clearly connects to what they set out to achieve, and they use that examination to pinpoint weaknesses or areas for improvement.”
  • While the report features many strategies for government decisions-makers, the central recommendation is that, “leaders incorporate analytics as a way of doing business, making data-driven decisions transparent and a fundamental approach to day-to-day management. When an analytics culture is built openly, and the lessons are applied routinely and shared widely, an agency can embed valuable management practices in its DNA, to the mutual benet of the agency and the public it serves.”

TechAmerica Foundation’s Federal Big Data Commission. “Demystifying Big Data: A Practical Guide to Transforming the Business of Government.” 2013.

  • This report presents key big data imperatives that government agencies must address, the challenges and the opportunities posed by the growing volume of data and the value Big Data can provide. The discussion touches on the value of big data to businesses and organizational mission, presents case study examples of big data applications, technical underpinnings and public policy applications.
  • The authors argue that new digital information, “effectively captured, managed and analyzed, has the power to change every industry including cyber security, healthcare, transportation, education, and the sciences.” To ensure that this opportunity is realized, the report proposes a detailed big data strategy framework with the following steps: define, assess, plan, execute and review.

World Economic Forum. “Big Data, Big Impact: New Possibilities for International Development.” 2012.

  • This report examines the potential for channeling the “flood of data created every day by the interactions of billions of people using computers, GPS devices, cell phones, and medical devices” into “actionable information that can be used to identify needs, provide services, and predict and prevent crises for the benefit of low-income populations”
  • The report argues that, “To realise the mutual benefits of creating an environment for sharing mobile-generated data, all ecosystem actors must commit to active and open participation. Governments can take the lead in setting policy and legal frameworks that protect individuals and require contractors to make their data public. Development organisations can continue supporting governments and demonstrating both the public good and the business value that data philanthropy can deliver. And the private sector can move faster to create mechanisms for the sharing data that can benefit the public.”

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!

White House Unveils Big Data Projects, Round Two

Information Week: “The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and Networking and Information Technology R&D program (NITRD) on Tuesday introduced a slew of new big-data collaboration projects aimed at stimulating private-sector interest in federal data. The initiatives, announced at the White House-sponsored “Data to Knowledge to Action” event, are targeted at fields as varied as medical research, geointelligence, economics, and linguistics.
The new projects are a continuation of the Obama Administration’s Big Data Initiative, announced in March 2012, when the first round of big-data projects was presented.
Thomas Kalil, OSTP’s deputy director for technology and innovation, said that “dozens of new partnerships — more than 90 organizations,” are pursuing these new collaborative projects, including many of the best-known American technology, pharmaceutical, and research companies.
Among the initiatives, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and NASA have set up the NASA Earth eXchange, or NEX, a collaborative network to provide space-based data about our planet to researchers in Earth science. AWS will host much of NASA’s Earth-observation data as an AWS Public Data Set, making it possible, for instance, to crowdsource research projects.
An estimated 4.4 million jobs are being created between now and 2015 to support big-data projects. Employers, educational institutions, and government agencies are working to build the educational infrastructure to provide students with the skills they need to fill those jobs.
To help train new workers, IBM, for instance, has created a new assessment tool that gives university students feedback on their readiness for number-crunching careers in both the public and private sector. Eight universities that have a big data and analytics curriculum — Fordham, George Washington, Illinois Institute of Technology, University of Massachusetts-Boston, Northwestern, Ohio State, Southern Methodist, and the University of Virginia — will receive the assessment tool.
OSTP is organizing an initiative to create a “weather service” for pandemics, Kalil said, a way to use big data to identify and predict pandemics as early as possible in order to plan and prepare for — and hopefully mitigate — their effects.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH), meanwhile, is undertaking its ” Big Data to Knowledge” (BD2K) initiative to develop a range of standards, tools, software, and other approaches to make use of massive amounts of data being generated by the health and medical research community….”
See also:
November 12, 2013 – Fact Sheet: Progress by Federal Agencies: Data to Knowledge to Action
November 12, 2013 – Fact Sheet: New Announcements: Data to Knowledge to Action
November 12, 2013 – Press Release: Data to Knowledge to Action Event

NEW Publication: “Reimagining Governance in Practice: Benchmarking British Columbia’s Citizen Engagement Efforts”

Over the last few years, the Government of British Columbia (BC), Canada has initiated a variety of practices and policies aimed at providing more legitimate and effective governance. Leveraging advances in technology, the BC Government has focused on changing how it engages with its citizens with the goal of optimizing the way it seeks input and develops and implements policy. The efforts are part of a broader trend among a wide variety of democratic governments to re-imagine public service and governance.
At the beginning of 2013, BC’s Ministry of Citizens’ Services and Open Government, now the Ministry of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services, partnered with the GovLab to produce “Reimagining Governance in Practice: Benchmarking British Columbia’s Citizen Engagement Efforts.” The GovLab’s May 2013 report, made public today, makes clear that BC’s current practices to create a more open government, leverage citizen engagement to inform policy decisions, create new innovations, and provide improved public monitoring­—though in many cases relatively new—are consistently among the strongest examples at either the provincial or national level.
According to Stefaan Verhulst, Chief of Research at the GovLab: “Our benchmarking study found that British Columbia’s various initiatives and experiments to create a more open and participatory governance culture has made it a leader in how to re-imagine governance. Leadership, along with the elimination of imperatives that may limit further experimentation, will be critical moving forward. And perhaps even more important, as with all initiatives to re-imaging governance worldwide, much more evaluation of what works, and why, will be needed to keep strengthening the value proposition behind the new practices and polices and provide proof-of-concept.”
See also our TheGovLab Blog.