Indexing the fitness of municipal OGD for e-participation and data journalism
ICT&S Center of Salzburg University, stefan.huber [et] sbg dot ac dot at
Innovative municipalities have started to provide Open Government Data. But the specifications of the OGD offered vary across municipalities in many aspects. Some municipal Open Government Data (mOGD) is more suited than others for the creation of public value. Public value can be drawn from mOGD in at least two ways: if mOGD is processed into e-participation innovations or if mOGD is used for data journalism. Indexing the fitness of existing mOGD provided by various municipalities for (1) e-participation innovations and (2) data journalism will reveal disparities in the empowering potential of the varying approaches to OGD chosen on local level. In the long run, the municipal Open Government Data Index (mOGD-I) will help shaping a standard of mOGD that provides best for the creation of public value.
Open Government Data, OGD, public value, e-participation, data journalism, index
Scores of innovative municipalities around the globe have started to provide Open Government Data (OGD). In the Austrian context Linz and Vienna are most advanced, Graz is catching up with its recent first OGD release and Salzburg is working on an OGD strategy. Many other municipalities of various sizes are closely following these developments, working out guidelines concerning municipal Open Government Data (mOGD).
This reflection first sketches the context of mOGD and the creation of public value on local level. In a second step, it proposes to elaborate an index that states the fitness of mOGD to be useful for the creation of public value by means of (1) e-participation innovations and by (2) data journalism.
1. OGD and the creation of public value on local level.
A factual way to understand Open Government Data (OGD) is to see it as the diffusion of public sector information. Diffusion is generally defined as “the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system. It is a special type of communication, in that the messages are concerned with new ideas” (Rogers, 1995, p. 5). Another way to understand OGD is to consider it a chunk of the collective intelligence of humanity. All through modern history, governments at local, regional, national and supra-national level have gathered information. An immensurable quantity of data has been collected over time. Releasing this data back into the public realm and providing it continually in machine readable and treatable ways is a form of diffusion of digital information, that gives back to the current and future generations what has been gathered by people in the past or present.
The development of Open Government Data is a large-scale process of co-production and mutual shaping going on between governmental, social, technological, cultural, economic and institutional stakeholders. It represents an innovation that is unsettling the political culture prevailing in municipalities and the institutional culture of mass-media corporations. The latter are confronted with new forms of open-data-driven data-journalism that challenge the business plans of the classic printing press. Some municipalities, on the other hand, see their representative political culture confronted with mOGD being processed into e-participation innovations. In both cases, the classic way of creating public value is changed by Open Government Data.
In many contexts, e-participation is first and foremost understood as political participation. Here, innovations in e-participation are new ICT-based tools that increase peoples’ capabilities to exert an active citizenship. In a broader sense though, to empower citizens may refer to aspects beyond politics, like social power, communication processes and the media. Castells states that
“social power throughout history, but even more so in the network society, operates primarily by the construction of meaning in the human mind through processes of communication. In the network society, this is enacted in global/local multimedia networks of mass communication, including mass self-communication, that is, the communication organized around the Internet and other horizontal digital communication networks.”
(Castells, 2011, p. 7)
In this broader approach, OGD is a powerful tool for the construction of meaning through processes of communication, if processed into e-participation innovations or used for data
journalistic purposes. Situated in the center of a triangle (Kaltenböck & Thurner 2011, p. 12) between political decision-makers (who decide the conditions of the publication of OGD), the public administration (which is responsible for publishing OGD in the way defined by the decision-makers), and the public, OGD offers plenty of opportunity for the creation of public value. Developing an index for the fitness of municipal OGD to be used for the creation of public value in form of e-participation innovations or in form of data journalism will be helpful for decision-makers of all kinds of background to make their choices for the best mOGD strategy.
1.1. Creating public value in the context of OGD
The public value concept was introduced by Moore in 1995 in order to help public sector managers with their strategic challenges and choices. Ever since, the concept of public value was used by academics when working on proposals for public sector reform (Williams & Shearer, 2011, p. 1). In 2011, Benington limits the notion of public value to two main ways of thinking: First, what the public values (synonym: appreciates); and second, what adds value to the public sphere (Benington, 2011, p. 42). The first is meant to counterbalance the public administration’s tradition to allow a limited number of experts determine the value of public service. The second part of the definition intends to bring the interests of the wider public (including future generations) into the game (ibid, p 43). With the public sphere Benington understands
“the web of values, places, organizations, rules, knowledge, and other cultural resources held in common by people through their everyday commitments and behavior, and held in trust by government and public institutions”
(ibid, p. 43).
Like other values, public value is established through a continuing process of dialogue (ibid, p. 44). If OGD is processed into e-participation innovations or used for data-journalistic purposes that are either valued by the public or add value to the public sphere, public value is created. As OGD-powered e-participation innovations are increasingly used by the public and data-journalists are increasingly using OGD, it can be said that OGD is used for the creation of public value.
1.2. OGD and Open Government:
Open government today means much more than just the right of people to access governmental information and proceedings. Influenced by the experiences of the open source software movement, the open government approach has incorporated claims for participation in the procedures of government (Maier-Rabler & Huber, 2011). Lathrop and Ruma (2010, p. xix) are very concise when they say that just
“as open source software allows users to change and contribute to the source code of their software, open government now means government where citizens not only have access to information, documents, and proceedings, but can also become participants in a meaningful way.”
The term “government as a platform” was coined by O’Reilly (2009). Open platforms allow capable citizens to experience authentic empowerment by enabling “anyone with a good idea to build innovative services that connect government to citizens, give citizens visibility [...] and even allow citizens to participate directly in policy making” (O’Reilly, 2009). OGD is therefore a key feature of open government:it allows capable users to recombine public service information and thereby to develop new perspectives on given problems as well as to raise awareness about new issues that have not been considered a political priority within representative democracy.
Coleman famously said that “media technologies are neither inherently participatory nor exclusive, but depend upon cultural practices and policy contestations” (ibid, p363). One of the special features of OGD is that its use is 100 % socially shaped. Therefore OGD-based applications and OGD-based data journalism have got the potential to both foster democratic empowerment, as well as its opposite. The only remedy against misuse is more open government and the strengthening of citizens’ media capabilities. The intended mOGD-I Index will help to raise awareness about this issue.
2. Indexing the fitness of mOGD for the creation of public value: the mOGD-I on e-participation and the mOGD-I on data journalism
Indexing the fitness of municipal open government data for the creation of public value is more than a technical challenge. The requirements for the mOGD-I on e-participation will be different from those on the mOGD-I on data journalism. Among the components that need to be taken into consideration for the mOGD-I are the following:
- Linked Data principles as defined by Berners-Lee and others (technical aspects)
- Quantity of OGD datasets provided by the municipality
- Variety, and Shattering power of OGD (e.g. budget data)
- Cost (if applicable at all) of access to the OGD
- Licensing of the use of OGD (e.g. Creative Commons, ODbL, others)
- Actuality of OGD, as well as the availability of recent and historic OGD
- Accompanying tools (e.g. data visualization tools, discussion environments, etc)
- Empowering tools (e.g. for user propositions, collaboration, decision-making)
- Accompanying measures provided by the municipality (e. g. public campaign, cross-media referencing, competitions for the best use of OGD, etc)
- Empowering strategies (e.g. online/offline participatory budgeting procedures)
- Geo referencing and other components
I propose to take an open science approach when discussing which of those components should finally be considered and which further ones should be added to the mOGD-I. It will be necessary to discuss weighing certain factors (i.e. multiply them by factor x) that deserve more significance than others in the mOGD-I. A first step can be made during the Austrian Conference on OGD in June 2012. In a second step, the components for the mOGD-I on e-participation are planned to be further refined in collaboration with the e-participation community. Similarly, the components of the mOGD-I on data-journalism will be chosen and weighted at a conference in the field of data-journalism. All along the process of discussing the final formula of the mOGD-I, open science principles should be applied.
Once finished, the application of the mOGD-I will reveal disparities between the fitness of various local OGD strategies for the creation of public value. Maybe some municipalities will further elaborate their OGD practice in the light of their mOGD-I score. In the long run, municipalities might follow the best practice examples set by those cities scoring best on the municipal Open Government Data Index. Thereby the mOGD-I could help in shaping a standard of mOGD that provides best for the creation of public value on local level.
- Benington, J. (2011). From Private Choice to Public Value?. In Beinington J. & Moore, M (Eds), Public Value : Theory and Practice (pp. 31-49). Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Castells, M. (2011). A Network Theory of Power. In International Journal of Communication 5, (pp. 773–787). Retrieved April 10, 2012 from http://ijoc.org/ojs/index.php/ijoc/article/view/1104/555
- Kaltenböck, M., & Thurner, T. (2011). Open Government Data Weißbuch. Donau-Universität Krems.
- Lathrop, D., & Ruma, L. (2010). Open Government. Sebastopol: O’Reilly Media.
- Maier-Rabler, U., & Huber, S. (2011). “Open”: the changing relation between citizens, public administration, and political authority. In JeDEM 3(2): 2011 (pp. 182-191) retrieved April 10, 2012 from http://www.jedem.org/article/view/66/75
- O’Reilly, T. (2009). Gov 2.0: The Promise Of Innovation. Retrieved April 10, 2012 from http://www.forbes.com/2009/08/10/government-internet-software-technology-breakthroughs-oreilly.html
- Rogers, E. (1995). Diffusion of innovations. New York: Free Press
- Williams, I., & Shearer, H. (2011). Appraising Public Value: Past, Present and Futures. In public administration. Volume 89, Issue 4 (pp. 1367-1384)
About the Author
Stefan Huber is a doctoral researcher at the ICT&S Center of Salzburg University. His research comprises e-democracy, e-participation, open government and open government data, participatory society, new media literacy and online civic education, public value and participatory online budgeting.
Source: CeDEM12 Proceedings of the International Conference for E-Democracy and Open Government, p. 339-342, Donau Universität Krems; Available at: http://www.donau-uni.ac.at/imperia/md/content/department/gpa/zeg/dokumente/cedem12_conference_proceedings.pdf
Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Austria License.