By Andrew Young and Stefaan Verhulst

Two years ago, the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Opening Governance was launched to build an empirical foundation and fundamental understanding of how the redesign of democratic institutions influences effectiveness and legitimacy in governance, to the end of improving people’s lives. Much has changed since. Interest in open government has increased rapidly and the need to innovate in how we solve problems is now well understood at all levels of decision-making: local, state, national and international. Despite the growth in innovation efforts little is known about what works and why.

To address these knowledge deficits, the Network’s efforts are focused on the questions found in its common Research Agenda, organized around two central hypotheses:

  • Collaborative Innovation – When institutions open themselves to diverse participation and better coordinate efforts with other stakeholders, governing decisions are more effective and legitimate.
  • Data-Driven Innovation – When governing institutions leverage data to inform decision-making they are more legitimate and effective, and when institutions open data to the public, new public value is created.

To test these hypotheses and the many research questions that exist under them, the Network and its members are active in five key areas:

  1. Promoting collaboration – both within the Network itself and with others from the emerging field of opening governance, working to break down barriers between disciplines to jointly solve problems, answer questions and create value.
  2. Documenting the paradigm shift – identifying, curating, and broadening the awareness of the key examples, scholarship and evidence in the field of opening governance.    
  3. Increasing the understanding of variables of impact – through both action and desk research, identifying, collecting, and testing the diversity of elements that can impact the success or failure of innovative open governance efforts.
  4. Training – providing both the current and next generation of public problem solvers (within and outside government) the skills, research insights and guidance needed to increase their impact.  
  5. Promoting the uptake of findings – taking results gained through research – often research undertaken in a real-world setting with institutional partners – and driving the application of relevant findings in other governing contexts. 

In the below, we describe a selection of outputs and outcomes along these five lines, which provide a glimpse at the work and impacts of the Research Network over the last past year. 

1. Promoting collaboration

“Opening Governance” was the organizing theme of the 75th meeting of the Academy of Management, the largest gathering of business-school professors in the world. Chaired by Network member Anita McGahan, the meeting brought together over 10,000 people under this theme, and yielded the most paper submissions received in the history of AoM.

The Network organized a series of workshops bringing together scholars working on questions with democratic choice together with scholars working on machine learning and related forms of data analysis. The goal is to help galvanize debates between data scientists and political scientists and theorists that could generate new ways of addressing common problems.

The Network played an important role in the development of ResearchStack, a common framework and open source community around health-related crowdsourcing and citizen-science. Network member Deborah Estrin drove efforts to bring the benefits of ResearchKit to the Android mobile platform so that research studies can include appropriate demographic representation. 

2. Documenting the paradigm shift

Through a number of efforts, including the weekly GovLab Digest, the Network has sought to act as the curator and knowledge-broker for relevant happenings in the field.

Americans’ Views on Open Government Data,an original report from the Pew Research Foundation built from a nationally-representative survey of American adults  focused on their attitudes about open government and open data and behaviors related to them. 

The Network, in partnership with Omidyar Network developed 19 case studies on the global impacts of open data and a Key Findings Paper documenting the lessons learned across these diverse cases.

3. Increasing the understanding of variables of impact

Across its two core lines of research, the Network’s efforts were especially targeted at deepening the field’s understanding of: Collective Intelligence (particularly as it relates to healthcare patient networks); Empathy in Decisionmaking; Globally Distributed Governance Practices; Open Innovation (prizes and incentives); Private Entrepreneurship in the Public Interest; Technologies of Expertise; Data-Driven Governance of Healthcare; Open Data impacts; Small Data; and Data Collaboratives.

The Network has studied variables of impact within and across these themes through a number of projects and products, including three books published by Network members in 2015: Innovation for Health Urbanization – co-edited by Anita McGahan; Governance in the Information Era: Theories and Practice of Policy Informatics – edited by Erik Johnston; and Smart Citizens, Smarter State: The Technologies of Expertise and the Future of Governing – by Beth Simone Noveck. Additionally, Network members released research papers and book chapters across a diversity of topic areas and outlets. A compendium of some of these papers will be released soon. 

Beyond traditional academic writing, the Network and its members launched or continued the development of a number of collaborative platforms to enable research into variables of open governance impact, including:

  • Netmundial Solutions Map, a tool designed to support information sharing and collaboration across Internet governance issues.
  • Crosscloud, a set of protocols and tools that gives individuals better control of their own data. Building on standard Semantic Web and Linked Data Technologies, Crosscloud will allow individuals to choose whom can access their personal data and move their data to other systems as needed.
  • Pushcart, a prototype system to address one of the most critical and broad issues around governance and health, namely nutrition. The Pushcart system leverages individual household grocery shopping data to drive scalable personalized behavioral interventions.

4. Training

Many Network members acted as faculty in the GovLab Academy’s Coaching Programs, which are geared to the purpose-driven participant inside and outside of government (both individuals and teams) passionate about a public problem and already undertaking a project. The programs are designed to help participants develop a project from idea to implementation. As part of the GovLab Academy training efforts, the Network provided targeted disaster response and preparation mentorship and training for officials in the city of Quito, Ecuador in preparation for the eruption of volcano Cotopaxi.

Closely related to its focus on documenting the paradigm shift and promoting the uptake of findings, the Network works to identify and share best practices in the broader field. At this year’s Open Government Partnership Summit in Mexico City, for instance, the Network led a session focused on assessing the impacts of open governance initiatives. The assembled policymakers, academics and institutional actors were guided through an impact assessment exercise and trained in how to apply such methodologies to their everyday work.

Additionally, at the LabWorks 2015 conference in London, the Network led “Masterclass Workshops” with global innovation lab practitioners on:

  • Data for Innovation: A coaching session on the ways in which open and shared data can help the labs community act on opportunities for innovating governance and address barriers to impact.
  • Crowdsourcing Wisely: Moving beyond crowdsourcing widely to strategically target opportunities for participation to the individuals and groups most able to have an impact on the innovation objectives of the labs community.
  • LabTech: Developing common frameworks and tools for labs to spur innovation through the opening, sharing, and leveraging of data.

5. Promoting the uptake of findings

In the broadest terms, the Network is seeking to bring the interdisciplinary ideas and findings, across the two central lines of research, to communities inside and outside government that can put them to best use. 

At events like At the Roots of Collective Intelligence, The Coming Age of the Internet of Things, and the Network-organized Data-Driven and and Collaborative Solutions Public Forum, the Network sought to promote the operationalization of its findings within and outside the existing field. 

The Network also sought to play a direct role in promoting the uptake of open governance findings within governments: 

  • In collaboration with Leiden University’s Peace Informatics Lab, and the World Economic Forum Data-Driven Development initiative, the Network analyzed a series of terms and conditions for both public and private data challenges. The analysis was conducted in coordination with UN Global Pulse, and was used as an input for the Data for Climate Action Challenge launched at the COP21 Paris Climate Conference.
  • The Network held a meeting with high-level UK Cabinet Office officials to discuss leveraging data-driven and collaborative innovation to two central priority areas for the new Cameron administration.
  • The United States Department of Education’s "Future Ready Learning: Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education," National Education Technology Plan (NETP) was developed with input from a diversity of expert advisors, including Network chair Beth Simone Noveck.
  • The Network engaged the U.S. government innovation prize community at the Challenge.gov 5th anniversary event both to launch Network of Innovators and to discuss strategies for inserting research and impact assessment into future prize-backed challenges.
  • White House Fact Sheet: In October 2015, the Obama Administration released a new Fact Sheet to coincide with the Challenge.gov anniversary event. Included in the fact sheet is the following: “The GovLab and MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Opening Governance will launch an expert network for prizes and challenges. The Governance Lab (GovLab) and MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Opening Governance will develop and launch the Network of Innovators (NoI) expert networking platform. NoI will make easily searchable the know-how of innovators on topics ranging from developing prize-backed challenges, opening up data, and use of crowdsourcing for public good. Platform users will answer questions about their skills and experiences, creating a profile that enables them to be matched to those with complementary knowledge to enable mutual support and learning. A beta version for user testing within the Federal prize community will launch in early October, with a full launch at the end of October. NoI will be open to civil servants around the world.”
  • On Friday, March 20, 2015, the Network hosted the Accelerating Data Collaboratives Workshop with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The workshop brought together government agencies, companies, and experts to identify synergies and understand best practices in sharing public and private data for public good. Participants included: Megan Smith, U.S. Chief Technology Officer, DJ Patil, Deputy CTO for Data Policy and Chief Data Scientist, and Chris Moody, VP of Data Strategy at Twitter, among others.
  • The Network forged community partnerships with Maricopa County Department of Public Health, Arizona Department of Health Services, National Weather Service Phoenix Forecast Office, Arizona Department of Transportation, Phoenix Heat Relief Network, Maricopa Association of Governments, Maricopa County Air Quality Department around a number of projects on urban planning and improving intervention programs to reduce extreme heat health incidents (e.g., cooling center networks, public health warning systems). These partnerships led to the passage of Phoenix's $31.5 billion transportation plan in August 2015. 

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