Stefaan Verhulst in Stanford Social Innovation Review: Corporate Social Responsibility for a Data Age

Yesterday, Stanford Social Innovation Review published a piece from Network chief of research Stefaan Verhulst on a new form of "Corporate Social Responsibility for a Data Age." The piece, which builds on a talk given by Verhulst at TEDx MidAtlantic and the GovLab's recently launched website, discusses the need for a new conception of data responsibility in our age of data-driven problem-solving (and data-driven risks). 

After proposing a conception of Data Responsibility comprising a duty to share, a duty to protect and a duty to act, Verhulst offers four immediate steps to enable the necessary culture shift within companies, governments and other data-holding entities:

  1. Data holders should issue a public commitment to data responsibility so that it becomes the default—an expected, standard behavior within organizations.
  2. Organizations should hire data stewards to determine what and when to share, and how to protect and act on data.
  3. We must develop a data responsibility decision tree to assess the value and risk of corporate data along the data lifecycle.
  4. Above all, we need a data responsibility movement; it is time to demand data responsibility to ensure data improves and safeguards people’s lives. 

Read more here



Geoff Mulgan Joins New Council on the Future of Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Announced at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Geoff Mulgan joins a group of 25 international, cross-sector experts in the newly established council on the Future of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The initiative is aimed at better understanding the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution.

From the council description: 

"This council will explore the Fourth Industrial Revolution as an opportunity to change models of innovation-driven entrepreneurship for the better, and create an environment that makes entrepreneurship more inclusive, while maximizing the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s benefits to the society and minimizing the risks that come with it."

Members include: 

  • Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive, Nesta
  • Valerie Casey, Founder and Executive Director, The Designers Accord
  • Bhaskar Chakravorti, Senior Associate Dean, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University
  • Hongbo Chen, Vice-Dean, Tuspark Research Institute for Innovation, Tsinghua University
  • Tracy De Groose, Chief Executive Officer, Dentsu Aegis Network Ltd
  • Rocio Fonseca, Executive Director, Start-Up Chile
  • David Halabisky, Economist, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
  • Huda Al Hashimi, Assistant Director-General, Strategy and Innovation, Office of the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates
  • Susan Hauser, Corporate Vice-President, Enterprise and Partner Group, Microsoft Corporation
  • Victor Hwang, Vice-President, Entrepreneurship, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation
  • Eugene Kandel, Chief Executive Officer, Start-Up Nation Central
  • Mark Kendall, Chairman, University of Queensland Innovation Champions, The University of Queensland
  • Neelie Kroes, Non-Executive Member of the Board, Open Data Institute
  • R. May Lee, Dean, School of Entrepreneurship and Management, ShanghaiTech University
  • Atul Mehta, Global Head, Telecom Media Technology, Venture Capital and Funds, International Finance Corporation (IFC)
  • Ovais Naqvi, Managing Director, The Abraaj Group
  • Catalina Ortiz, Consultant
  • Rapelang Rabana, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Rekindle Learning
  • Navi Radjou, Chief Executive Officer, NR Advisors
  • Allon Raiz, Chief Executive Officer, Raizcorp
  • Tom Simmons, Enterprise Fellow, University of Cambridge
  • Ashish J. Thakkar, Chair, Global Entrepreneurs Council, United Nations Foundation
  • Peter Tufano, Dean, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford
  • Jeffrey Wong, Global Chief Innovation Officer, EY
  • Wong Poh-Kam, Professor, Department of Strategy and Policy, National University of Singapore (NUS)

Read more here



New Report from Lee Rainie and Pew Research Center: Code-Dependent: Pros and Cons of the Algorithm Age

Yesterday, Lee Rainie, Network member and director of Pew's Internet, Science and Technology Research, and Elon University's Imagining the Internet Center's Janna Anderson released a new report on the Algorithm Age. The report seeks to better understand the pros and cons of our increasing reliance on algorithms across many aspects of life. Rainie and Anderson note that, "Algorithms are often elegant and incredibly useful tools used to accomplish tasks. They are mostly invisible aids, augmenting human lives in increasingly incredible ways. However, sometimes the application of algorithms created with good intentions leads to unintended consequences."

Rainie and Anderson uncovered a number of overarching themes relevant to our Algorithm Age, all examined in detail in the report: 

  1. Algorithms will continue to spread everywhere
  2. Good things lie ahead
  3. Humanity and human judgment are lost when data and predictive modeling become paramount
  4. Biases exist in algorithmically-organized systems
  5. Algorithmic categorizations deepen divides
  6. Unemployment will rise
  7. The need grows for algorithmic literacy, transparency and oversight

Read more here.



Beth Simone Noveck in Governing: Launching the Data Justice Network

In her latest column for Governing, Network chair Beth Simone Noveck describes the GovLab's newly launched Data Justice Network. The piece, written together with Batu Sayici, the GovLab's director of user experience, makes the case for expert networking technologies to "potentially transform how justice practitioners gain and share knowledge." As data-driven decision-making takes hold across governance sectors, including criminal justice, Noveck and Sayici argue that the ability to identify and consult with those possessing relevant data expertise can increase the chances of success for a criminal justice data project.

Noveck and Sayici provide background on the project: 

"During President Obama's administration, the White House championed a Data-Driven Justice (DDJ) initiative focused on helping state and local jurisdictions identify and make better use of their own and others' data. But after investing in and focusing on collecting data, state and local governments are struggling to determine how to move from collection to responsible and effective use and analysis. In a 2012 Bureau of Justice Statistics survey of criminal-justice professionals, only 39 percent reported even employing researchers on staff to evaluate performance, and the survey revealed wide disparities in the embrace of data-driven decision-making. More recently, in a Governance Lab survey of criminal-justice coordinating councils, 53 percent reported that they did some data analysis at the individual agency level, but a full 22 percent reported that they did no data analysis at all.

To help rectify this situation, the Justice Management Institute and the GovLab, in collaboration with the National Association of Counties, the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative, Code for America and the Sunlight Foundation, have launched the Data Justice Network, a knowledge-exchange platform that aims to accelerate data-driven justice reforms by facilitating better collaboration among criminal-justice practitioners and policymakers."

They go on to describe the goals and functionalities of the network: 

"The platform, built with support from a grant by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, allows justice officials to find colleagues with relevant experience in working with data -- ranging from high-level strategy, coordination, regulatory and legal compliance to working with vendors, analytics and reporting -- as well as justice-specific experience in areas such as crime prevention, pretrial procedures, mental health treatment and recidivism reduction. Users can share their innovative projects to gain visibility and inspire others while learning from their peers about what works, what doesn't and how to implement new programs."

Read more here.



Research Network Participation at World Economic Forum 2017 in Davos

At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Network chair Beth Simone Noveck and Network member Sir Tim Berners-Lee took part in a number of sessions, including the “Shaping Davos” event, focusing on how technology can help to solve global problems. Both spoke about meeting the challenges facing a more globalized and dynamic internet environment, along with the great potentials new internet technologies hold.

Berners-Lee emphasized the need to counter cyber abuse in a nuanced yet powerful way: “Sir Tim Berners-Lee told the BBC that those who ‘make life absolutely miserable’ for women on the net should be named so they could be sued...offenders must be ‘judged by an open, accountable judicial process.'”

Among other engagements, Noveck tackled the question “How can emerging economies lead the way on embracing the Fourth Industrial Revolution to catalyse sustainable growth and inclusion?” The session was developed with the Global Shapers Community, focusing on global issues and local solutions. It is part of a series of live events connecting to 16 cities worldwide.

View the WEF agenda and presentations here.

Read more about Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s participation here.



Journal Article on Github for Open Governance Published from Work Undertaken at ASU Center for Policy Informatics

In 2014 a team from Arizona State University's Center for Policy Informatics (CPI), supported by Network member Erik Johnston and led by Network Associate Member Justin Longo, began researching how GitHub might be used in public sector organizations to facilitate open knowledge sharing and collaboration. The results of that research have now been published in the journal Canadian Public Administration (open access is available here).

GitHub is the largest web-based source code project hosting service on the Internet, principally used for distributed version control of software and website development projects. In recent years, increasing attention was being paid to the use of GitHub as a platform for document collaboration, with the possibility that it could serve to revolutionize the practice of knowledge sharing within organizations and be a mechanism for open governance.

Along with CPI colleague Tanya Kelley (now a postdoc at the University of Michigan), Longo set out to understand how GitHub was being used in public sector organizations and how it might be used in future. Longo and Kelley also published a series of three blog posts on the Brookings Institution TechTank blog (starting here) where they speculated on what tools like GitHub might mean for public sector organizations.

“The history of computer-supported collaborative work platforms is littered with really cool interfaces that failed to appeal to users. The experience to date with GitHub in Canadian governments reflects this, as far as our research shows”, Longo said in a recent blog post. “But while it’s tempting to dismiss GitHub, as it currently exists, as ill-suited as a collaboration tool to support document writing, it holds a lot of potential as a useful platform for facilitating collaboration in the public sector.”

Abstract: GitHub is a web-based digital project hosting service that facilitates collaboration. We introduce how GitHub works and assess how it has been used in the public sector in Canada based on interviews with federal government leaders and a survey of Canadian public service GitHub users. With little research to date on public sector use of GitHub, and none on its use in Canadian governments, we explore the early experience with this collaboration tool and consider the possible implications for collaboration in government.

Read more here



The GovLab Launches – New Resource on Creating Public Value by Sharing Data

This week, the GovLab, through different partnerships with UNICEF (focused on creating data collaboratives to improve children's lives) and Omidyar Network (studying new ways to match open-data demand and supply to increase impact), launched Data Collaboratives are a new form of collaboration built on cross-sector data sharing to solve public problems. 

Network chair Beth Simone Noveck described the potential of data collaboratives: "Recent years have seen exponential growth in the amount of data generated and stored around the world, and there is increasing acknowledgement that big data could play a key role in helping to address issues such as world hunger, disaster relief, and disease prevention if data were made widely available to those in positions to glean insights from the information and act upon it." 

The new resource collects over 70 examples of data collaboratives in place around the world, a guide for establishing a data collaborative, a rundown of incentives for the private sector to participate, and information on risks and strategies for mitigating them. 

"According to Stefaan Verhulst, The GovLab's co-founder and director of research and the head of its Data Collaboratives Initiative, the diverse examples detailed on the site clearly demonstrate the potential of data collaboration as an emerging model of inter-sector digital philanthropy.

'In the coming months and years, they will be essential vehicles for harnessing the vast stores of privately held data toward the public good,' Verhulst said."

Read the press release here

Read the launch blog post here



Disunited Kingdom – Henry Farrell's Feature on Brexit in the Latest Democracy

For the Winter issue of Democracy, Henry Farrell explores the weakening of political parties in the United Kingdom and Europe – culminating in Brexit. The article, "Disunited Kingdom," tracks the shifts of political parties over time, with an eye toward explaining how Brexit became a reality, and how "the Labour Party [became] so weak that the Conservatives do not need to worry about Labour defeating them in the next election, or perhaps in the election after that. This means that UK political debate over the next decade will be an internal fight between more or less authoritarian versions of the right."

The current political situation in the U.K., the quickly approaching reality of Brexit and the the lack of trust in political parties leads Farrell to believe that a new debate about Britain's place in the EU and the establishment of a new political could occur before long:

"...the question of the UK rejoining is likely to come up again, as the costs of continued exclusion become clearer. Britain’s strategic situation in the world economy has not changed—it is far more dependent on Europe than it would like to admit. More than 4 million UK citizens signed a petition to run the referendum again—those who voted for Brexit tended to be old, while those who voted in favor of remaining in the EU tended to be young.

This might create political opportunities for an opposition party that wanted to oppose May’s vision of Britain by advocating a more populist vision of the EU—one in which people had free movement, but technocracy was curtailed and ordinary people had a better chance to shape policy. Such a vision might help mobilize the very large numbers of British people who wanted to remain within the EU around an active and positive agenda. It might also answer Mair’s dilemma—by proposing reforms that would once again build bridges of mutual accountability between citizens and their elected representatives. Finally, it might create alliances with other nascent reformers that are starting to think through the problems of Europe. Perhaps a reformed Labour Party could build on such a vision or something like it, but there is precious little evidence of it right now. Even if it did, there is no guarantee that this vision would lead to election victory."

Read more here



New Draft Paper from Geoff Mulgan: A New Family of Data Commons?

Based on a November talk given at ESADE in Barcelona, this week, Nesta's Geoff Mulgan shared a draft paper, "A New Family of Data Commons?" for public comment. The paper is part of Nesta's ongoing work on the topic, which seeks "to design and test out new ways of combining data that give citizens greater control, while also making it easier to generate public value through linking data together."

Mulgan offers seven central areas where the establishment of a data commons can have a positive impact:

  • Help with everyday choices for individuals and families
  • Help with everyday choices for organisations
  • Prediction and prevention of harms
  • Better services
  • Better coordination of big systems
  • Better policy
  • More accountable power

He also predicts that four types of data commons will emerge in the coming years:

  • Personal data commons
  • Public data commons
  • Knowledge commons
  • City Data Commons

Read more here



Sheena Iyengar for Columbia Business School's Ideas at Work: How Choice Failed Us

Last week, Network member Sheena Iyengar shared insights from the science of choice relevant to the 2016 U.S. presidential election for Columbia Business School's Ideas at Work publication. In particular, Iyengar seeks to answer the question, "did choice fail us in this election?"

Iyengar uses the piece to examine the role of choice in Trump's election, from the Republican primaries when Trump faced 16 other opponents, to a general election between two of the least popular candidates in history: 

"A number of studies by social scientists, including Simona Botti, Ann McGill, and myself, have shown that we have a much harder time choosing amongst options that we don’t like than options we do. The reason for this, simply put, is that when we’re choosing amongst desirable options, our job is fun: we get to identify the one that’s the best. We add up the pros and cons of each option and pick the one with the highest score.

But when we’re choosing amongst undesirable options, the entire process turns laborious. When faced with adding up all the cons and deciding which option we think is less bad, we’re demotivated. Instead of comparing our choices, we direct our energy instead to resentment and frustration. We complain endlessly about the choices themselves.

And this complaining feels great when it’s part of a chorus of complaints. Recall how much solidarity there was between Americans and the media about how awful our choices were and how little attention was given to the differences — albeit cons — between those options. Now, we’re left scratching our heads and asking to be reminded: what do we know about the first 100 days of the winner, again?" 

She concludes with a consideration of the move from too many choices to too few choices, as well as the widely option to not choose (or, in this case, vote):

"After the election, which saw the lowest voter turnout in 20 years, this was what I heard, to my surprise, from so many people: they were proud to have abstained from voting. These were the Americans who spent their energy, during the days leading up to the choice, wishing the choice away instead of doing the work of making a difficult decision.

Ultimately, I’m not trying to say what was the right or the wrong choice. The way choice failed us here was first too much and then too little, causing us to lose track of how, or perhaps even why, we choose.

As modern citizens of democracies, we are free to choose and free not to choose. But either choice leaves us equally complicit in the final outcome, and failing to reckon with that outcome looks less like an exercise of freedom than a rejection of freedom itself."

Read more here



Beth Simone Noveck in the Guardian: Could Crowdsourcing Expertise be the Future of Government?

In the wake of the UK's EU referendum and the US election of Donald Trump, Network chair Beth Simone Noveck provides a vision of governmental crowdsourcing of expertise in The Guardian. She argues that the embrace of "charismatic demagogues" is at least in part the result of the public's lack of trust in institutions, which are seen as remote entities staffed with "experts" who possess little interest in the opinions, skills and experiences of citizens. 

Noveck notes:

"Citizen engagement is largely confined to elections, opinion polls or jury service – asking people what they feel, not what they know and can do – even though democracy should be rule by, for and with the people.

However, this dichotomy between equality and expertise, between democracy and professionalism, is false."

Drawing on success stories from across sectors, Noveck argues that, "for all forms of engagement to be more effective," governments need to move away from viewing citizens as only a source of uninformed feelings or preferences, and instead "move to smarter crowdsourcing, which uses technology to make opportunities to participate more visible, and integrates them into how decisions get made."

How do we transition to such a system? Noveck offers five steps:

"First, we have to replicate and scale successful examples. The Smarter Crowdsourcing for Zika project, organized by the Inter-American Development Bank and the Governance Lab, coordinated ministries of health, sanitation, and modernization across four governments in Latin America, for a four-month curated crowdsourcing effort. The project matched hundreds of international experts to specific problems associated with Zika, ranging from trash collection to long term care, for a series of six online conferences designed to inform government responses to mosquito-borne viruses.

Second, we must overcome the assumption that the purpose of engagement is purely to build legitimacy. It is not. If the goal of participation is simply communication between government, citizens and interest groups, then we miss the knowledge building aspects of crowdsourcing. These enable us to find missing information, generate alternate hypotheses, undertake tasks, get more eyeballs on a problem, or boots on the ground.

Third, we should move beyond the assumption that participation must be mass-based. Instead, we should construct a range of different practices that speak to people’s knowledge, experience and passions to spot problems, design policies, work on drafts or participate in implementation.

Fourth, in an era of networks, we must ensure that engagement is no longer limited to interest groups – NGOs, unions, women’s groups – and, instead, look to broader networks of people with innovative ideas to contribute. For the Zika project, representatives of the World Health Organization took part, but so did a researcher from Pakistan, who is using predictive analytics to spot dengue, and a social entrepreneur from Brooklyn, who has designed an app to coordinate school children to pick up trash where water collects.

Finally, there is too little understanding of the models of engagement. We need to accelerate social science research on who participates and why if we are to design effective engagement practices that make government work better."

Read more here



Sir Tim Berners-Lee on Open Data Security and Inclusiveness

In a discussion with The Guardian, Network member Sir Tim Berners-Lee and his co-founder of the Open Data Institute, Sir Nigel Shadbolt, touched on some concerns related to the growing open data space. They focused in particular on questions of open data being used for nefarious purposes (beyond those related to privacy concerns):

"Asked about whether open data could have security vulnerabilities, Berners-Lee said criminals could manipulate open data for profit, for example by placing bets on the bank rate or consumer price index and then hacking into the sites where the data is published and switching the figures.

'If you falsify government data then there are all kinds of ways that you could get financial gain, so yes,' he said, 'it’s important that even though people think about open data as not a big security problem, it is from the point of view of being accurate.'

He added: 'I suppose it’s not as exciting as personal data for hackers to get into because it’s public.'"

Sir Tim also touched on the need for open data to be more inclusive in order to continue its growth and impact:

"Berners-Lee said during a presentation that a key challenge, particularly in the era of Brexit and Donald Trump, was making reliable data available to people who felt disenfranchised: 'How can we help everyone in the country feel that they have access to good quality information … whether they get it on the web or not – maybe they get it through TV and radio? How can we restore a culture and civilisation based on knowledge … and a democratic system based on knowledge, based on facts and truth?'

Read more here



Beth Simone Noveck Discusses Smarter Crowdsourcing for Zika at CityLab 2016

At this year's CityLab 2016 event, hosted by The Atlantic, the Aspen Institute, and Bloomberg Philanthropies, Network Chair Beth Simone Noveck discussed a joint effort to fight Zika through smarter crowdsourcing techniques with Argentina's Undersecretary for Modernization Rudi Borrmann. CityLab brought together "more than 500 global city leaders—40 mayors, plus urban theorists, city planners, scholars, architects, and entrepreneurs—for a series of conversations about the challenges and ideas that are shaping the world's cities and metro areas."

Noveck announced the Smarter Crowdsourcing effort in a post on the GovLab blog in August: 

"This four-month initiative will target and mobilize global expertise to help governments in Latin America prepare for and respond to mosquito borne viruses and to generate innovative and implementable solutions to the challenge posed by major infectious disease outbreaks in the region, in particular those transmitted by mosquitoes. Instead of a handful of people meeting once at great expense in a conference room, we will use the Internet to make it easy for people to lend their time and know-how and deliberate with one another to identify, design and iterate upon implementable ideas that governments can use."

At CityLab, Borrmann and Noveck discussed the myriad lessons learned and challenges related to government getting smart quickly in the face of an evolving crisis – from the challenge of triaging the "firehose" of information flowing into government to the benefits of breaking down barriers between departments and ministries within government, as well as barriers between government and outside, international experts. 

Watch the discussion between Noveck and Borrmann here



Lee Rainie at Frankfurt Book Fair 2016 Talks to Publishers Weekly about Reading in the Digital Age

At this year's Frankfurt Book Fair, Publishers Weekly interviewed Network member Lee Rainie about Pew Research Center's inquiry into how Americans consume books, and "the future of reading." The discussion was based on the recently released Book Reading 2016 Pew report, as well as previous surveys on the topic conducted over the years.  

In addition to discussing the continued popularity of physical books and strategies for conducting surveys on book readership, Rainie described the change in reading habits over the last five years, especially as influenced by technology:

"Well, we did a quite extensive survey about the state of reading when we began this work in 2011. In 2011, benchmarking was an important thing to do because e-books were coming of age, and we had just gotten a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to do research that they hoped would be useful to librarians trying to figure out their futures. So we believed that getting a big, rich, broad fix on the state of reading and the state of book in 2011 was a logical starting point. In subsequent surveys, we haven't gone into that much detail, in part because our sense is that people's book reading habits are not changing dramatically year-to-year. It's not like their political views, where measuring it with a lot of regularity makes sense because people change as circumstances change. In book reading, year-to-year, there's not that much change.

One of the things that has changed, however, is the devices people are reading on. There is a big uptick in people using tablets and phones, and not so much dedicated e-book readers. So, you have people who are on the move, people who have commutes and things like that are taking along a device that's makes books accessible to them in circumstances that aren't classic book-reading circumstances. So now, books can be omnipresent in people's lives, if they want them to be. And our data are very clear that there is a class of Americans who just can't get enough books, and if they can't be with the format they love, they love the format they're with."

Read more here.



Stefaan Verhulst on Data Responsibility for TEDxMidAtlantic and The Conversation

For The Conversation, Network chief of research Stefaan Verhulst proposes a new way of viewing data responsibility in the information age. He argues that while the value and utility of data (and open government data in particular) is increasingly recognized, much of the most useful information is held by the private sector in proprietary datasets. A new understanding of and framework for data responsibility, he argues, "can help organisations break down these private barriers and share their proprietary data for the public good. In the case of the private sector, in particular, it represents a type of corporate social responsibility for the 21st century."

Verhulst, who discussed also discussed this new idea of data responsibility at last week's TEDxMidAtlantic event, offers three pillars of data responsibility: 

1. A duty to share

"This is perhaps the most evident duty: to share private data when it’s clear that it will serve the public good. Secondary use is not always popular among data holders (often for good reasons) but when done correctly, data sharing can have powerful social benefits."

2. A duty to protect

"Sharing does involve risks, notably to privacy, security and other individual rights. So it is imperative that organisations share responsibly, with every effort to protect both the data itself and the individuals who have surrendered their data (even if often unwittingly)."

3. A duty to act

"For released data to serve the public good, officials and others must also adopt policies and interventions based on insights gained from its release. Without action, the potential remains just that — potential."

Read more here



Sheena Iyengar Discusses Her Research on the Strong Women's Club Podcast

Sheena S. Iyengar, inaugural S.T. Lee Professor of Business School, joined Edie Berg on her Strong Women’s Club Podcast last week to discuss the implications of her research. Iyengar shares her perspective on how people present themselves to others, choose the people in their circles, the psychology of authenticity, and the 2016 U.S. presidential election. These topics represent a synthesis of the overall research conducted by Iyengar, who argues that modernity is a “special era in which we can actually choose everything about who we are – more than any other time of history.” For instance, we have the ability to choose our physical attributes, the people to whom we connect ourselves, and the ideas we choose to express in ways that are unprecedented. As such, Iyengar is interested in how “people come to make the choice about who will comprise their social circle. Do we make those choices or do we allow structure to make them? Are your best friends the people randomly assigned to your freshman dorm, or do we deviate from that structure?”

She summarized her research to Berg as follows:

“I think all roads lead to choice in one way or another. I am, in the end, interested in asking the question ‘how do we help empower people so that they can be more productive?’

I would say that if there are three themes that cut across all the work I do, it would be: 1) the power of choice, taking into consideration the potential pitfalls associated with that, 2) the power of connection, taking into consideration the sort of nuances behind that, and 3) the power of creativity.”

Listen to the whole podcast here.



Stefaan Verhulst with Danny Lämmerhirt: Toward a user-centric and interdisciplinary research agenda to advance open data.

In a new blog post on for the International Open Data Conference (IODC) website, Network chief of research Stefaan Verhulst and Danny Lämmerhirt of Open Knowledge International report back on their conference 'action track' on Measurement and Increasing Impact. The action track "sought to review the need and role of research for (scaling) open data practice and policy" and was "informed by the various sessions and workshops that took place at the Open Data Research Symposium prior to the Conference."

Verhulst and Lämmerhirt focus in particular on four areas of discussion and potential next steps raised during IODC and the preceding research symposium: 

"Demand and use: First, many expressed a need to become smarter about the demand and use-side of open data. Much of the focus, given the nascent nature of many initiatives around the world, has been on the supply-side of open data. Yet to be more responsive and sustainable more insight needs to be gained to the demand and/or user needs."

"Informing data supply and infrastructure: Second, we heard on numerous occasions, a call upon researchers and domain experts to help in identifying 'key data' and inform the government data infrastructure needed to provide them. Principle 1 of the International Open Data Charter states that governments should provide key data 'open by default', yet the questions remains in how to identify 'key' data (e.g., would that mean data relevant to society at large?)."

"Impact: In addition to those two focus areas – covering the supply and demand side –  there was also a call to become more sophisticated about impact. Too often impact gets confused with outputs, or even activities. Given the embryonic and iterative nature of many open data efforts, signals of impact are limited and often preliminary. In addition, different types of impact (such as enhancing transparency versus generating innovation and economic growth) require different indicators and methods. At the same time, to allow for regular evaluations of what works and why there is a need for common assessment methods that can generate comparative and directional insights."

"Research Networking: Several researchers identified a need for better exchange and collaboration among the research community. This would allow to tackle the research questions and challenges listed above, as well as to identify gaps in existing knowledge, to develop common research methods and frameworks and to learn from each other. Key questions posed involved: how to nurture and facilitate networking among researchers and (topical) experts from different disciplines, focusing on different issues or using different methods? How are different sub-networks related or disconnected with each other (for instance how connected are the data4development; freedom of information or civic tech research communities)? In addition, an interesting discussion emerged around how researchers can also network more with those part of the respective universe of analysis – potentially generating some kind of participatory research design."

Read more here.



Presentation from Lee Rainie: Operating in the Age of Always-On Media

Last week, Lee Rainie, Network member and director of Internet, Science and Technology research at Pew Research Center, shared findings on the use of digital technology at the Federal Reserve Board's Editors and Designers conference. His keynote talk explored "the impact of social media, collaboration, and future trends in technology with a special focus on the issues tied to security and reputational risk that face the Federal Reserve System."

In particular, he proposed ways in which Pew's evidence could be leveraged to help communicators:

  • "Disseminate their messages across multiple digital and traditional media channels
  • Engage their audience and encourage amateur evangelism
  • Assess the impact of their outreach and observe challenges to their material
  • Think like long a long-tail organization that also has real-time immediacy"

View the presentation here



Henry Farrell in Vox: How the Chris Hayes book Twilight of the Elites explains Trump's appeal

Writing for Vox, George Washington University political scientist Henry Farrell argues that Chris Hayes' 2012 book The Twilight of the Elites is having a "real moment" right now. In particular, Hayes' book – published before the current wave of populist and nationalistic rhetoric and political action in the United States – proposes that "the reality of an unequal country is generating a political crisis, in which people lose their trust in institutions and become radicalized."

Farrell argues that:

"The crucial insight in Twilight of the Elites is that economic inequality is not just a statistical relationship, in which some people earn more and others earn less. It is also an engine that transforms institutions — the rules, regulations, and practices that every country needs. Elites — the people at the top — have financial, political and social resources. They are able to use these resources to reshape institutions to protect themselves and their children. In contrast, many middle-class people increasingly think that America’s institutions are a rigged game where the powerful and connected have a dealer’s edge."

Farrell focuses in on Hayes' discussion of meritocracy in particular: 

"Hayes’s book suggests there are a lot of people who think that the system is broken, and that they can be politically mobilized. Donald Trump’s appeal is based on the claim that he is an anti-system politician. Unlike other politicians, he is prepared to tell it like it is, and to stick it to elites. Unsurprisingly, many elites, including elites within the Republican Party, are aghast. Senior Republicans are quietly rooting for Trump to lose. Core members of the intellectual wing of the party have publicly expressed their shock and abhorrence."

Farrell concludes with a discussion of one issue present in the current U.S. political environment that Hayes does not cover in his book:

"Hayes’s book describes how meritocracy is breaking down, and how American elites and middle-class people are increasingly disconnected from each other. He captures many of the fears and anxieties that are at the heart of the Trump phenomenon. However, there is one crucial factor that his argument doesn’t get — the role of racism and xenophobia. Hayes hoped in 2012 that discontented people on the left and right might find common cause in pushing for institutional reform. Although he wrote about how meritocracy is blind to inequalities of race and income, he had little to say about the relationship between anti-system anger and racism."

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Sir Tim Berners-Lee in the Washington Post: Ted Cruz is wrong about how free speech is censored on the Internet

In an op-ed for The Washington Post, Network member and creator of the World Wide Web Sir Tim Berners-Lee and his colleague at MIT CSAIL Daniel Weitzner push back against calls for the United States to exert greater control in the Internet Governance space. In particular, the piece is a response to a call from Senator Ted Cruz for the U.S. to continue and ramp up its stewardship of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Numbers and Names (ICANN), the institution that controls the Internet's domain name system (DNS). Sen. Cruz argued that if the U.S. can take greater control of ICANN, it could help to decrease online censorship by more authoritarian countries. 

Sir Tim and Weitzner respond:

"From our technical and policy perspective, we believe there is no effective way for the United States to use leverage at ICANN to force countries to stop censoring speech.

What we do know is that for the Internet to work, we need global consensus on technical standards and operating procedures such as those that are administered by ICANN. Without this consensus, the networks operated by numerous companies in over a hundred countries around the world will cease to flow. The web sites designed by the leading Internet companies and hundreds of millions of individuals will cease to work. And the very domain names that we use to identify these web sites will fail.

One of the smartest things the United States and its allies have done over the years is to encourage countries, companies and individual users to rely on the technical and social consensus that makes the Internet work. The global reach of the Internet has been an extraordinary boon for the United States and for those countries that embrace the open nature of Internet technology."

Read more here