From Networked Publics to Issue Publics: Reconsidering the Public/Private Distinction in Web Science


New paper by Andreas Birkbak: “As an increasing part of everyday life becomes connected with the web in many areas of the globe, the question of how the web mediates political processes becomes still more urgent. Several scholars have started to address this question by thinking about the web in terms of a public space. In this paper, we aim to make a twofold contribution towards the development of the concept of publics in web science. First, we propose that although the notion of publics raises a variety of issues, two major concerns continue to be user privacy and democratic citizenship on the web. Well-known arguments hold that the complex connectivity of the web puts user privacy at risk and enables the enclosure of public debate in virtual echo chambers. Our first argument is that these concerns are united by a set of assumptions coming from liberal political philosophy that are rarely made explicit. As a second contribution, this paper points towards an alternative way to think about publics by proposing a pragmatist reorientation of the public/private distinction in web science, away from seeing two spheres that needs to be kept separate, towards seeing the public and the private as something that is continuously connected. The theoretical argument is illustrated by reference to a recently published case study of Facebook groups, and future research agendas for the study of web-mediated publics are proposed.”

Open Government in a Digital Age


An essay by Jonathan Reichental (Chief Information Officer of the City of Palo Alto) and Sheila Tucker (Assistant to the City Manager) that summarizes work done at the City that resulted in the Thomas H. Muehlenback Award for Excellent in Local Government: “Government is in a period of extraordinary change. Demographics are shifting. Fiscal constraints continue to challenge service delivery. Communities are becoming more disconnected with one another and their governments, and participation in civic affairs is rapidly declining. Adding to the complexities, technology is rapidly changing the way cities provide services, and conduct outreach and civic engagement. Citizens increasingly expect to engage with their government in much the same way they pay bills online or find directions using their smartphone where communication is interactive and instantaneous. The role of government of course is more complicated than simply improving transactions.
To help navigate these challenges, the City of Palo Alto has focused its effort on new ways of thinking and acting by leveraging our demographic base, wealth of intellectual talent and entrepreneurial spirit to engage our community in innovative problem solving. The City’s historic advantages in innovative leadership create a compelling context to push the possibilities of technology to solve civic challenges.
This case study examines how Palo Alto is positioning itself to maximize the use of technology to build a leading Digital City and make local government more inclusive, transparent and engage a broader base of its community in civic affairs….”

A promising phenomenon of open data: A case study of the Chicago open data project


Paper by Maxat Kassen in Government Information Quarterly: “This article presents a case study of the open data project in the Chicago area. The main purpose of the research is to explore empowering potential of an open data phenomenon at the local level as a platform useful for promotion of civic engagement projects and provide a framework for future research and hypothesis testing. Today the main challenge in realization of any e-government projects is a traditional top–down administrative mechanism of their realization itself practically without any input from members of the civil society. In this respect, the author of the article argues that the open data concept realized at the local level may provide a real platform for promotion of proactive civic engagement. By harnessing collective wisdom of the local communities, their knowledge and visions of the local challenges, governments could react and meet citizens’ needs in a more productive and cost-efficient manner. Open data-driven projects that focused on visualization of environmental issues, mapping of utility management, evaluating of political lobbying, social benefits, closing digital divide, etc. are only some examples of such perspectives. These projects are perhaps harbingers of a new political reality where interactions among citizens at the local level will play an more important role than communication between civil society and government due to the empowering potential of the open data concept.”

The Participatory Turn: Participatory Budgeting Comes to America


Thesis by Hollie Russon Gilman: “Participatory Budgeting (PB) has expanded to over 1,500 municipalities worldwide since its inception in Porto Alege, Brazil in 1989 by the leftist Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party). While PB has been adopted throughout the world, it has yet to take hold in the United States. This dissertation examines the introduction of PB to the United States with the first project in Chicago in 2009, and proceeds with an in-depth case study of the largest implementation of PB in the United States: Participatory Budgeting in New York City. I assess the outputs of PB in the United States including deliberations, governance, and participation. I argue that PB produces better outcomes than the status quo budget process in New York City, while also transforming how those who participate understand themselves as citizens, constituents, Council members, civil society leaders and community stakeholders. However, there are serious challenges to participation, including high costs of engagement, process exhaustion, and perils of scalability. I devise a framework for assessment called “citizenly politics,” focusing on: 1) designing participation 2) deliberation 3) participation and 4) potential for institutionalization. I argue that while the material results PB produces are relatively modest, including more innovative projects, PB delivers more substantial non-material or existential results. Existential citizenly rewards include: greater civic knowledge, strengthened relationships with elected officials, and greater community inclusion. Overall, PB provides a viable and informative democratic innovation for strengthening civic engagement within the United States that can be streamlined and adopted to scale.”

Citizen-Centered Governance: The Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics and the Evolution of CRM in Boston


New Paper by Susan P. Crawford and Dana Walters (Berkman Center Research Publication No. 17): “Over the last three years, the Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, the innovative, collaborative ethos within City Hall fostered by Mayor Menino and his current chief of staff, Mitchell Weiss, and Boston’s launch of a CRM system and its associated Citizens Connect smartphone app have all attracted substantial media attention. In particular, the City of Boston’s strategy to put citizen engagement and participation at the center of its efforts, implemented by Chris Osgood and Nigel Jacob as co-chairs of the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, has drawn attention to the potential power of collaboration and technology to transform citizens’ connections to their government and to each other. Several global developments have combined to make Boston’s collaborative efforts interesting: First, city managers around the world confront shrinking budgets and diminishing trust in the role of government; second, civic entrepreneurs and technology innovators are pressuring local governments to adopt new forms of engagement with citizens; and third, new digital tools are emerging that can help make city services both more visible and more effective. Boston’s experience in pursuing partnerships that facilitate opportunities for engaging citizens may provide scalable (and disruptive) lessons for other cities.

During the summer of 2013, in anticipation of Mayor Menino’s retirement in January 2014, Prof. Susan Crawford and Project Assistant Dana Walters carried out a case study examining the ongoing evolution of the Boston Mayor’s Hotline into a platform for civic engagement. We chose this CRM focus because the initial development of the system provides a concrete example of how leaders in government can connect to local partners and citizens. In the course of this research, we interviewed 21 city employees and several of their partners outside government, and gathered data about the use of the system.

We found a traditional technology story—selection and integration of CRM software, initial performance management using that software, development of ancillary channels of communication, initial patterns of adoption and use—that reflects the commitment of Mayor Menino to personalized constituent service. We also found that that commitment, his long tenure, and the particular personalities of the people on the New Urban Mechanics team make this both a cultural story as well as a technology story. Here are the highlights…”

The five elements of an open source city


Jason Hibbets in Open Source.com: “How can you apply the concepts of open source to a living, breathing city? An open source city is a blend of open culture, open government policies, and economic development. I derived these characteristics based on my experiences and while writing my book, The foundation for an open source city.  Characteristics such as collaboration, participation, transparency, rapid prototyping, and many others can be applied to any city that wants to create an open source culture. Let’s take a look at these characteristics in more detail.

Five characteristics of an open source city

  1. Fostering a culture of citizen participation
  2. Having an effective open government policy
  3. Having an effective open data initiative
  4. Promoting open source user groups and conferences
  5. Being a hub for innovation and open source businesses

In my book, I take a look at how these five principles are being actively applied in Raleigh, North Carolina. I also incorporate other experiences from my open government adventures such as CityCamps and my first Code for America Summit. Although Raleigh is the case study, the book is a guide for how cities across the country, and world, can implement the open source city brand.”

The Use of Data Visualization in Government


Report by Genie Stowers for The IBM Center for The Business of Government: “The purpose of this report is 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. Data are here to stay, growing exponentially, and data analysis is taking off, pushed forward as a result of the convergence of:
• New technologies
• Open data and big data movements
• The drive to more effectively engage citizens
• The creation and distribution of more and more data…
This report contains 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. Government managers can use these tools—including Many Eyes, Tableau, and HighCharts—to create their own visualizations from their agency’s data.
The report presents case studies on how visualization techniques are now being used by two local governments, one state government,and three federal government agencies. Each case study discusses the audience for visualization. Understanding audience is important, as government organizations provide useful visualizations to different audiences, including the media, political oversight organizations, constituents, and internal program teams.To assist in effectively communicating to these audiences, the report details attributes of meaningful visualizations: relevance,meaning, beauty, ease of use, legibility, truthfulness, accuracy,and consistency among them.”

Technologies Of Choice?


New MIT book by Dorothea Kleine:  “Information and communication technologies (ICTs)–especially the Internet and the mobile phone–have changed the lives of people all over the world. These changes affect not just the affluent populations of income-rich countries but also disadvantaged people in both global North and South, who may use free Internet access in telecenters and public libraries, chat in cybercafes with distant family members, and receive information by text message or email on their mobile phones. Drawing on Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach to development–which shifts the focus from economic growth to a more holistic, freedom-based idea of human development–Dorothea Kleine in Technologies of Choice? examines the relationship between ICTs, choice, and development.
Kleine proposes a conceptual framework, the Choice Framework, that can be used to analyze the role of technologies in development processes. She applies the Choice Framework to a case study of microentrepreneurs in a rural community in Chile. Kleine combines ethnographic research at the local level with interviews with national policy makers, to contrast the high ambitions of Chile’s pioneering ICT policies with the country’s complex social and economic realities. She examines three key policies of Chile’s groundbreaking Agenda Digital: public access, digital literacy, and an online procurement system. The policy lesson we can learn from Chile’s experience, Kleine concludes, is the necessity of measuring ICT policies against a people-centered understanding of development that has individual and collective choice at its heart.”

Open Data Research Announced


WWW Foundation Press Release:  “Speaking at an Open Government Partnership reception last night in London, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the World Wide Web Foundation (Web Foundation) and inventor of the Web, unveiled details of the first ever in-depth study into how the power of open data could be harnessed to tackle social challenges in the developing world. The 14 country study is funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and will be overseen by the Web Foundation’s world-leading open data experts. An interim progress update will be made at an October 2013 meeting of the Open Government Partnership, with in-depth results expected in 2014…

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the World Wide Web Foundation and inventor of the Web said:

“Open Data, accessed via a free and open Web, has the potential to create a better world. However, best practice in London or New York is not necessarily best practice in Lima or Nairobi.  The Web Foundation’s research will help to ensure that Open Data initiatives in the developing world will unlock real improvements in citizens’ day-to-day lives.”

José M. Alonso, program manager at the World Wide Web Foundation, added:

“Through this study, the Web Foundation hopes not only to contribute to global understanding of open data, but also to cultivate the ability of developing world researchers and development workers to understand and apply open data for themselves.”

Further details on the project, including case study outlines are available here: http://oddc.opendataresearch.org/