All About Open

In case it hasn’t been obvious I do like things that have open in front of them. It’s an ethos I have been exploring personally and professionally for some time now and generally encourage such ponderings amongst module participants. You ‘enjoyed’ an interesting discussion on Free last week and we contrasted it with the concept of open. To attempt to root our explorations in the current I will draw your attention to the Open Government Partnership meeting that is took place in London this week. As I mentioned in an earlier post Ireland has recently committed to this important initiative and Minister Brendan Howlin will be attending the first summit since Ireland made this commitment. This is an important time for Ireland. Although  the Action Plan for Ireland remains in development following a series of public engagements over the summer, there is gathering momentum amongst citizen groups to inform the eventual Action Plan.

In conjunction with this meeting the Smart Cities citizens group released a series of 23 short essays offering a series of snapshots reflecting of international thought on ‘the potential offered by engaging in open governance and empowering bottom-up social and business innovation. It provides a global perspective on how cities can create the policies, structures and tools to engender a more innovative and participatory society.’

It is an interesting read and I would encourage a quick browse and possibly taking a look at an area that might be of interest to you. There are some interesting things afoot in this space and there are some great opportunities for Ireland to engage in this process. I am also very struck by the Irish Times article at the weekend by Fintan O’Toole (love him or hate him) where he contends that Ireland succeeds at the community level but fails as a society. It’s a very thoughtful read and offers an interesting reflection on many of the themes emerging in this participatory democracy arena.

19 thoughts on “All About Open”

  1. The open government partnership is an interesting concept and one that I was not familiar with before. I would agree that opening up government data so that there can be greater accountability and more transparency might allow citizens a level of involvement that would encourage buy in and citizen involvement on important local decisions. However are we really going to get a voice in terms of where tax takings should be spent? I would be sceptical as to how much openness would actually take place and interested in who makes the decision to share data and how that information is communicated to the public.

    1. There are a couple of good articles and after reading them I
      want to question the government even more. Smart Citizens need smart government;
      a smart government is a long way off. If
      we want to continue to get more investments/jobs from the major international we
      need to start planning for tomorrow and to get a real ICT plan in operation so
      that the kids of today can get a better start. Our kids will be the smarter citizens
      we just got to give them the tools to start learning. I am sure everyone has
      heard of coderdojo, this is a great example of citizen involvement in the community, but they need help, surely this is something the government should be doing

    2. That’s a good point O Waters. Even though it’s a good idea to give the little people a view on certain things (where taxes are spent being one of them), I can’t realistically seeing it happening. Mainly for the reason that if we were to see where our taxes were actually spent, I think we would be horrified! We would be able to see the huge waste of money in the economy and major reform would be needed. The government as it stands would be finished and I don’t think they want that to happen, so I don’t think we’ll ever have that visibility on taxes. For example, what is the property tax going to be spent on? Bigger houses for the politicians? And what about the water metering? Someone has to fund Irish Water…

  2. Is this not three separate subjects
    Open government – publishing lots of information around decisions but burying important matters in a lot of irrelevant data ( unless rigorously challenged by independent organisations which in themselves can be biased) e.g. 62 action plans listed after consultantion on
    Smart citizens – influencing government, isn’t this the democratic process. Opening all decisions up to everyone can lead to no decisions because of the natural division of opinion
    Community spirit – Fintan O’Toole article is more a reminder of community spirit that is quite constant but not often seen/spoken of because the people participating do not see it as exceptional but rather than the right thing to do

    1. Absolutely agree. I conflate to put them out there. Yes, as you state there is much that brings them together but are distinct aspects of the larger ecosystem. Many would argue that the community spirit – lack of consciousness as a civil society is a break that underpins the inability to function as (2) and may in fact keep Ireland from realising any real benefit from (1).

      1. That’s the impression I got from reading “Recuperating the Smart City”. The technically-savvy citizen who used the Atherton Police Department’s own public release of data to determine that it was most likely conducting illegal racial profiling on drivers is a perfect example. The Police department’s response was to withdraw public access to that dataset. The technology may exist for citizens and governments to self-organise and interact from the bottom up to make cities more efficient and sustainable but is society ready to interact on that level? That requires a shift in culture that will take time. As quoted in “The Tortoise Needs to Cross Many Chasms”, Sociologist Amital Etzioni once observed that the pace of fundamental societal change ranges somewhere between “slow and crablike.” It seems the challenge is not so much a technological one, more a question of how to accelerate the evolution of social consciousness so that we can take advantage of the tools that are ready and waiting.

        1. Martin, you really hit it right on the head with that last statement. As I was walking over to get my porridge fix this morning I was struck by a societal tendency to think more about mythical than real users and not really focus on technological engagement and uptake. Exciting new engagement platforms that no one is using as we wait for people to show up and use them. How many people actually take the time to look for that new way of accomplishing the same old task? It’s a luxury to be honest for most if not all of us. The ways in which particular modes of technological engagement actually effect a society as a whole or even an individual life or a family in larger totality are largely not pondered. Shiny new innovation is always around the corner. But its always around the next one and we walk right by the vast offering that exists today.

          In the Digital Humanities (in which I am involved in my day job) there is an overwhelming tendency to digitise new collections, devise new tools and find a different way of accomplishing the task – rather than simply finding a good tool, and applying it skillfully as a craftsperson to an existing collection waiting to be studied. So much potential lost.

          1. Shawn people are so afraid of changes that`s why there is little of us looking to accomplish the same task easier, more efficient, cheaper, etc. I think this is just in our nature to accept everything the way we do and just never changing it. From my point of you it is more about being comfortable, sometimes maybe lazy or sometimes maybe with lack of knowledge. I am coming from really small town in Poland where you could see how people are still behind technology. It is not about that there is no potential. But it is all about access, money. New innovation is there but is it so no easy to be avialable for those families. I am the lucky one who made the decision of making changes and trying to learn new and addapt to new things. I see life harder today compearing to life my parents had.

          2. Sorry to sound a less-than-bought-in note, but I loved Bruce Sterling’s take on the “smart citizen” concept: basically, where is my opt-out from smart citizenry? First adopters of the concept and those interested in the subject will tend to assume community buy-in to the idea, but the feeling of anonymity provided by travelling to the cities of others will appeal to many potential sources of data:


          3. Absolutely. There’s an implication in the Smart Citizens paper that the only people who won’t participate are those who can’t. Personally, I don’t want to have huge input into urban planning. The article Sterling links to is also worth a read – Dan Hill makes the point that a lot of what’s managed by smart city systems is a second order outcome of the interactions that make a city what it is.

            On a side note: I liked the little bit of dystopianism someone slipped into the Wikipedia article on the subject:

            “For example, citizens can monitor the pollution concentration in each street of the city or they can get automatic alarms when the radiation level rises a certain level.”

            Radiation levels? Really?

          4. Completely agree. The literature is written by and for those with a dog in the fight- those who are engaged with and excited by the concept of smart citizenry. Those of us who are not moved by the concept, or have concerns about the anonymity lost in such a practice are not considered.

            The radiation levels thing is a funny one. My initial response was to say that it would make sense somewhere like Fukushima Prefecture, but then having thought again, once that alert on radiation levels said anything greater than zero, wouldn’t that be enough to make the average commuter reconsider?

          5. Should we not all want to be a Smart Citizen though? I guess it depends on the definition. Frank Kresin’s ‘Manifesto for Smart Citizens’ widens the definition of what a Smart Citizen is or should be and states that Smart Citizens “take the fate of the places we live into our own hands”.

            By gaining open access to data and the ability to be involved with town planning or changes to legislation etc. we are not allowing ourselves to remain as only “consumers, clients and informants”. That doesn’t
            mean that we all have to be involved but that there is the ability to do so and people who spend a lot of time complaining about government feel more empowered to do something about it, because as Krelin says “we ARE our government”.

          6. Excellent points, Emma: I think that’s moving from a series of facts to a normative statement, though. The obvious benefits from a societal perspective, while compelling, should not create a situation where one must be a smart citizen.

            I guess I’m advocating from a personal liberty perspective: that something as necessarily engaging as smart citizenry should have an opt-out for those who actively do not wish to participate.

          7. I think this has alot to do with what Martin mentioned as the ‘evolution of social consciousness’. In Ireland, looking back at the 39% turnout in the Seanad/Court of Appeal referendum and the complete lack of any critical mass attending anti-austerity protests outside government buildings during the summer, I wonder if we will ever have enough ‘Smart Citizens’ who really care about how this country is being run, ones who care enough to provide some sort of constructive input into local communities/government? Is Ireland ensnared in a passive protest with itself and the ensuing short-sighted reactionist solutions?

  3. Well, better late than never, I guess…Have been pretty much offline in the last few weeks but I managed to keep an eye on the forums’ topics so far and I have to say they are all quite interesting…This one on the Open Government Partnership particularly interesting…

    In a way I find it ironic talking about open government, transparency and a politically involved civil society when the media have spent the last few days talking about how, half of the world has been (secretly) listening to the other half’s telephone conversations…Perhaps I am a bit pessimistic but I do think that as some of you said the open government concept is still very utopian…A bit more transparency would do for me!

    Technology can definitely help with this (e.g.publishing budget spending on an open website) but we cannot forget that there are huge portions of the populations (even in Western countries) that do not have the same access to technology that we have, neither do they have the same familiarity…So I do think we’ll have to wait a couple of generations before technology can be the main channel for allowing more active participation of
    the civil society in the res publica. And for now adopt more traditional media (i.e. public talks as opposite to online forums).

    The article by Fintan O’Toole is a good read. I have to say that I do see some similarities between the Irish lack of societal spirit (as opposite to the community spirit) and the southern Italian one…I am no historian but I would probably say that this is a characteristic of countries / areas where the idea of State has meant oppression, hence had a negative
    connotation for centuries.

  4. I found Lea Rekow’s article (one of the 23 Smart Cities ones), ‘Including Informality in the Smart Citizen Conversation’, interesting. It’s a step removed from most of the discussions on open government and the high tech innovation associated with smart cities but that backs up her point. She states that number of people living in informal settlements (slums or favelas) will increase from 1 in 5 today to 1 in 3 by 2050 (which is pretty astounding) and
    stresses the need to include these citizens in the discussion if the movement
    is to “gain legitimacy as one that benefits all citizens”.

    These communities have mainly basic technologies (predominantly SMS) but access and use them in different ways to more affluent societies. Africa’s largest slum was GPS mapped by local youths and computer kiosks have been installed by the World Bank and the Indian government in some of India’s poorest areas (inspired by a guy who knocked a whole in his office wall and installed a computer for kids to play with on the other side which was facing into a slum).

    Technology is assisting these communities in improving their living conditions. For example, an NGO which brings technology literacy to residents of poorer areas enabled a group of youths in Brazil to produce a video of a rat infestation of a local rubbish dump which was cleared after the video was sent to local government officials.

    Although these local solutions are small given the immense size of the communities and their associated problems, it’s interesting to see how technology is being used to mobilise civil engagement. I’d agree with the author that debates about smart cities should not neglect these communities.

    (Think I’m still in journal review mode…)

  5. Planning corruption and tribunals left me feeling pessimistic for the future of planning. I am working my way though the essays in Smart Citizen, pondering as I go, but realise that my silence may be interpreted as inactivity! All children should be repeatedly told that that they have the power to make a difference and that they have the power to change things. We are conditioned by politicians and bureaucrats and regulations to accept not to shape. We should all have an input into the output. Should we decide not to use it, we should all have the ability to ensure that the people making the planning decisions are doing so for the community good and not for reasons unknown.

  6. There’s definitely a gap between smart citizens and government or smart cities as a hole. Design Rules for Smarter Cities by Frank Kresin aptly says ‘Your citizens know more than you. Don’t coerce or just pretend to listen’. Communities are very powerful, and it is amazing the things that people can do now so quickly and easily such as fund raising, sharing information/crisis alerts etc. Recently there have been a lot of disappearances in Ireland, it is then more than ever that you notice the power of communities in the sharing of missing person information. It’s important that governments work with their citizens to build smarter cities, otherwise you just broaden the gap, for instance there are facebook pages where people post the locations of Garda Checkpoints; citizens will continue to work together to meet their needs while governments continue to serve themselves.

  7. I have a particular interest in the design and future of the Smart City, Critical Design a Mirror of Human Condition in the Smart City by Michael Smith. How the interaction and involvement of “human beings” and not consumers, numbers or nodes could and should imply true innovation in the digital landscape is not to be overlooked in the development of the Smart city.
    We inadvertently build and are involved a digital landscape of the smart city through our personal devices (sensors) providing a network of thought and knowledge.
    Michaels looks deeply in the thought process and evaluates the concept well through the approaches taken and methods used.

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