This blog is part of an online learning platform which includes the Pathways to New Community Paradigms Wiki and a number of other Internet based resources to explore what is termed here 'new community paradigms' which are a transformational change brought about by members of a community.

It is intended to offer resources and explore ideas with the potential of purposefully directing the momentum needed for communities to create their own new community paradigms.

It seeks to help those interested in becoming active participants in the governance of their local communities rather than merely passive consumers of government service output. This blog seeks to assist individuals wanting to redefine their role in producing a more direct democratic form of governance by participating both in defining the political body and establishing the policies that will have an impact their community so that new paradigms for their community can be chosen rather than imposed.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Pew Center on Open Data, Whether Half Full or Half Empty, What's the Next Half of the Journey?

This post will be a slight detour from the pathway being taken by the previous two NCP posts concerned with Collective Impact. The Facebook group Open Government and Civic Technology - (The global #opengov group) recently had a post on Americans’ Views on Open Government Data | Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project and provided different views on the topic.

This brought to mind the past NCP blog post, Open Data as End and Means of Civic Disruptive Innovation, as well as the wiki-page that arose later, Transparency and Open Data in Governance and related blog post, Open Data - Left or Right, Inside or Outside, Works for Creating New Community Paradigms.

The Facebook post was submitted by Alex Howard of @digiphile, who also wrote 15 key insights from the Pew Internet and Life Project on the American public, open data and open government | E Pluribus Unum. According to the Sunlight Foundation Blog's perspective, “New Pew study: Public is optimistic about open government and open data”. In his Civic Innovations blog post, “Hearts and Minds and Open Data” writer Mark Headd wrote that it, "suggests a tremendous opportunity for organizers working in cities across the country to engage people to use data for new apps, services and visualizations." Steven Clift of the E-Democracy Forum and @democracy saw, “this survey as a huge wake up call to #opengov advocates on the #opendata side that the field needs to provide far more useful stuff to the general public and care a lot more about outreach and marketing to reach people with the good stuff already available.” Alex Howard also did a follow-up post, “Half empty or half full? Mixed reactions to Pew research on open data and open government” which extended the variety of perspectives even further.

Whether half full or half empty, it still puts us at being not any more than half way done. The question is being done with what? If it is transforming our means of democracy then this should be seen as nothing more than getting our foot in the door.

It has to be kept in mind that for the most part, especially in terms of truly impactful engagement and empowerment, we are on the outside of often entrenched systems of community governance. Did anybody think that the entrenched systems of bureaucratic, political power would fade away when enough apps became available?

Open data does not mean easily accessible or willingly shared. The need remains to penetrate the walls of entrenched bureaucratic, political systems often putting such efforts, and therefore the needed design focus of app developers, closer to that of community data journalists. This doesn't mean that everyone needs to become a local community data journalist. It does mean creating platforms to move from community data to community information and on to community wisdom, but open data and apps alone will not accomplish that, far deeper systemic transformation is needed

Most of the community and civic related technological innovations have been of the sustaining variety, for the most part sustaining the status quo, making changes on the edges. Significant examples of change can be found, yet for people to reach a tipping point to bring about true transformation, not only what they do but how they do it and why they to it, we need something much closer to disruptive innovations.

That pathway is a much longer haul, still being explored and requiring more steps. It will also require greater use of design thinking, not only to improve the user interface with an app within particular systems, but also within larger scalable, community based, collaborative efforts such as Collective Impact or upcoming The Next Systems Project in deeply understanding the needs of the community.

The Knight Digital Media Center believes that design thinking can develop better solutions for community organizations, especially foundations, and community media. Design thinking as used by design firms such as IDEO and others is based on a human-centered, design-based approach to helping public and private sector organizations innovate and grow.

Design thinking can help community foundations frame the question, “How might we craft information solutions that meet the deepest needs of our community?” It is done, according to the Knight article, “Can design thinking power better solutions for community foundations?”, by diving deep with small groups of people, to really understand their day-to-day behavior, their context, how they feel, what they do and how, instead of talking with a scientifically representative sample. The Stanford University d-school approach makes going even further explicit, drilling down to the individual. Looking for extreme users to understand the experiences of people at the statistical edges is also insightful. “The idea is that people who are in extreme positions one way or the other are exhibiting needs more acutely than the average person,” said Andrew Haeg, Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Center for Collaborative Journalism at Mercer University. “If you can talk to them they're going to help you understand problems that a lot of other people share or help you understand dynamics that are shared by a lot of other people."

The next question is how to apply this to communities? The Incourage Community Foundation’s initial goal of working with the community of Wisconsin Rapids on developing new ways of listening, talking and interacting, to encourage a culture ripe for self-organizing and collective action, was through adaptive skills but the foundation’s work quickly began incorporating design thinking which increased the impact of their work with residents. Applying adaptive skills prepared the ground so that a human-centered design approach created deep roots helping to transform the people and the culture of the place where they worked and lived. As sharing and spreading lessons about the resident-centered process with other organizations was seen as an important objective, a defining question then became: “How do we nurture the demand for information in the community?“

This started my thinking about Alex Howard's response to a Facebook comment with better questions. “A majority of American adults use open data in apps and services but do not realize that they do so. Do people need to be ‘engaged’ to find use in it, even if they're unaware? More broadly, under what conditions would providing access to data created with public funds to the public be a useless idea?"

The last NCP post addressed the need to be 'engaged' question. Apps and services using open data can be applied to all levels of Increasing Engagement (Kumu map). This would also include adding the concept of community attachment to that list. This still leaves open the question as to how to move people up the list to true engagement and beyond to empowerment. There isn't likely to be any sort of tipping point though if those using the apps, those curating the apps, and those designing the apps are focused only on specific grass-top organizations.

For New Community Paradigms, an ideal approach would be a bottom up one endeavoring to build a viable civic network by being able to follow these Tips from Beth Kanter and find local data nerds and build a local data hub, again from | Knight Digital Media Center. While this approach still focuses on grass-top organizations like nonprofits, it does attempt to reach into the community. Kanter's original post suggested setting up something like Chicago CivicWorks' online services, mobile apps, reports, or local services accessed by interactive text messaging and provided 10 strategies for finding volunteers and others to assist with data projects.

There is also the need for better community related content creation that is not only transparent but also factual, meaningful and viable. Again, from the Knight Digital Media Center, Public Lab’s DIY science plugs community into civic decisionmaking. Using low-cost tools, Public Lab is able to inject community knowledge into civic decision-making about local environmental concerns. Public Lab lists scores of DIY citizen projects on its extensive community populated Wiki website. It also puts accessible tools into the hands of the community not only resulting in good solid data being collected the tools themselves become self-replicating and viral through the provision of hand drawn, illustrated guides on how to create them, along with video tutorials walking people through each step of the process of using them to collect data. Open source licensing has also fed into Public Lab’s sudden growth.

By enabling ground up data-based research and communication, by putting the tools, the media platforms and devices into the hands of the community, Public Lab addresses a huge information gap with local governments and the industries whose policies impact the environment that community members can fill? The outcome could be a media campaign, interfacing with journalists or calling for a larger, systematic study of a certain area.

Working towards and attaining all of this in a comprehensive fashion by which it becomes ubiquitous will undoubtedly make things more complex, the challenge is making it all coherently complex, even simple if possible, which means continuing to develop new community paradigms.

Past Posts