The Open Victoria Project: Open-Government Widgets for Enhanced Citizen-Government Dialogue

This is a project I am trying to develop at the moment. It is a proposal for a small prototype project. Any takers?

Synopsis

Opening of the 57th Parliament, 21 December 2010

The Open Victoria Project will investigate and improve access to online Victorian State Government knowledge bases in a high-capacity broadband era. The project will repurpose and make available a set of portable generic widget applications for a new type of civic engagement that includes the capacity for users to selectively choose from data and video sources aggregated from parliament and online political environments (ie. ‘issue crawling’). The project will a) audit the data already being released by state government particularly within the Victorian Public Sector Information Release Framework (PSRIF) and 2) specify the additional data sources—beyond, for example, Hansard and Legislation and Bill—that may need to be released.[1] The data identified will be incorporated in the Open Victoria Project within a Personal Learning Environment (PLE) educational-context, encouraging civic participation in governance, citizen-government dialogue, and better understandings of the democratic choices available to citizens. Included will also be a widget that tracks selected MPs in terms of their parliamentary and committee activities, contextualised with documents, videos and other relevant media. The outputs of the investigation will promote openness, accountability and strong democracy in the state of Victoria through leveraging at a state level the Federal Government’s investment in the National Broadband Network (NBN).

The increased penetration of high-capacity broadband into domestic spaces and civic society creates the imperative that government respond appropriately through creating the ‘democratic services and associated applications that may be used online or through other new broadband enabled convergent devices, such as smart TVs and mobile pads.

Summary of proposal

The Open Victoria Project will be a theoretically informed, prototype platform that exposes parliamentary information as well as citizen produced information in a way that it is useful for the promotion of a two-way dialogue between political representatives and the public. It will do this through an approach that utilises communication tools and services that largely already exist (such as iGoogle, Twitter, Facebook etc.), but have not been fully utilised nor understood in a political sense, by the public, civil society, pressure groups, associations  nor by elected representatives.  Rather than building a completely new platform, as has been the case with a number of somewhat underutilised government initiatives, the project will take advantage of largely existing and heavily used social network platforms and provide tools and services to augment their existing capacity for informing and communicating government policy processes. There is already a movement in this direction through the large EU funded WeGov project, Google widgets, and other significant projects in the US and Europe.[2]

The Open Victoria Project aligns the Victorian Government’s own Government 2.0 action plan; particularly in terms of the priority areas of ‘engaging communities and citizens’ and ‘opening up government data to promote greater transparency’.[3] The data will be searchable by geo-location, post-code, and trending issues, as well as by legislation and MP, and will provide tools and methods to encourage the relationship between government and polity; particularly in terms of the ‘socialisation’ of government data. As the Victorian Government 2.0 Action Plan states:

Research has found that usage of social media and social networking sites has increased with 45% of Australians reporting regular use, up from 38% in 2008. This growth is across all age groups although there are differences in patterns and type of use between age groups. For example, older Australians are now responsible for expanding the reach of online social networking, indicating that Web 2.0 is not just a Gen Y phenomenon. There has also been a significant increase in use of the Internet to interact with government and a corresponding reduction in traditional methods of communication, such as by mail or in-person.[4]

 In summary, the aims of the project are to:

  • Audit the ‘democratic data’ being released under the Victorian Public Sector Information Release Framework (PSRIF) including video and other large data sources;
  • To identify the gaps, both institutionally and technically, and indicate the additional data sources that may need to be released and how and how broadband may enable this.
  • Aggregate data released under the PSRIF so that is may be ‘socialised’ within existing social networks.
  • Build a set of generic and transposable widgets utilising a Personal Learning Environment conceptual framework

Conclusion: Project Outcomes:

The chief significance of this research is that it will contribute to civic society, to the democratic participation, to a better informed citizenry and legislature, and to our growing knowledge of the impact of high-speed computing networks on the democratic processes. The NBN will drive the adoption of a large number of devices and services and it is vital that ‘democratic services’ are developed as a part of this and that ongoing research is undertaken. ‘Smart’ and ‘Hybrid’ Television and hand-held and other devises connected to the NBN offer enormous opportunity for politics; both formal and informal. It is vital that we understand these newer forms of information politics and the ‘democratic services’ that are required to benefit from the platforms that are already in popular use. Project outcomes include:

  • A published audit of the ‘democratic data’ that is being released by the Victorian Public Sector Information Release Framework (PSRIF)
  • Published recommendations on the nature and extent of additional data and information that needs to be released and in what form (ie. including which web services end-points are available)
  • A test-bed prototype utilising the NeCTAR cloud and the IBES test bed consisting of a generic widget-style system to utilise government data on high-performance broadband networks
  • A prototype utilising a Personal Learning Environment (PLE) conceptual framework to add-value to the information sources gathered


[2]  WeGov Project, Seventh Framework Programme, EU, http://www.wegov-project.eu/ (Accessed 15 June 2012).

[3] Government 2.0 Action Plan Victoria, eGovernment Resource Centre, State Government Victoria,    <http://www.egov.vic.gov.au/victorian-government-resources/government-2-0-action-plan/government-2-0-action-plan-victoria.html> (Accessed 15 June, 2012).

[4] Ibid

Political Issue Analysis System

The report from the project is available (here).  And have fun with the prototype (click on image below)..

Prototype PIAS

The Internet is recognised as a vital component of our political information systems.  Although extensively used by governments and civil society groups, its effects upon political processes; particularly deliberative political processes, currently remains relatively unknown.  Emerging research suggests that the Internet’s capacity to easily produce information has also led to data overload, undermining its deliberative potential.  With the advent of the National Broadband Network the ‘data deluge’ promises to intensify increasing the need for political information—in its various guises—to be delivered in much more meaningful ways.[1] This is especially important for younger audiences who are increasingly abandoning broadcast media in favour of online political information[2].

This project is an iterative study and design of an online ‘Political Issues Analysis System’ (PIAS) to assist users’ research and analyse political issues. It will deliver information about important political topics (ie. environmental issues, socio-economic issues, immigration, government policy etc.) using important data sources within a coherent ‘deliberative’ framework.  It will evaluate the needs of users to comprehend political issues through the application of a number of semantic indexing and data matching tools and design a prototype system.  It will do this in part through five public workshops using the University of Melbourne’s Usability Lab; each workshop focussing on a particular issue utilising particular tools and methods.[3] It will in tandem uncover recommendations to assist in the design of a unique software tool that fosters user-driven processes to effectively filter and visualise online political information obtained from government data-sets (partly within the ‘Government 2.0’ policy framework), the media, NGOs, historical data, and other user-generated online sources; (blogs, video etc).

The outputs of the research will be a working prototype as well as a report documenting the research outcomes with a series of recommendations for further research. This project may lead to the first major study of online deliberative processes within Australia; competitive within the ARC’s Linkage or Discovery scheme. The work will be of benefit to governments, community groups and other major producers of political sites and the users of such sites. The project is within IBES’s Social Infrastructures and Community theme and in particular, adheres to IBES’s and VeRSI’s shared aspirations ‘to make existing and available data more accessible’. In summary the broad aims of the project are:

  • To explore the evolving applications of online political information tools in an Australian and International context (especially in the analysis of broadband-enabled video and audio)
  • To examine deliberative processes with a number of stakeholder groups using semantic indexing methods and various communication tools at the University’s IDEA Lab.
  • To build, test and provide further recommendations for a ‘Political Issues Analysis System’ (PIAS)

Through these processes we address the following research questions:

  • How can we better understand online deliberation in the international and Australian context and what tools need to be developed to assist this?
  • How can we better design deliberative ‘ideas’ using data and online analysis tools that will involve people in a meaningful and inclusive way in consequential goal-orientated political processes?

 Approach and Outcomes:

The combination of theoretical groundwork, empirical study, and the design and implementation of the PIAS, will make an important contribution to the emerging body of research on the nature of political information on the Internet and in particular, the use of government data within it. Of chief significance is that the research will make explicit and open up to critical analysis the dichotomy between the availability of government and other data sources and effective online deliberative design. By consciously foregrounding information abundance as a condition of the present ‘information revolution’—through a unique fusion of political theory with semantic analysis and clustering tools—new perspectives will emerge and fresh research areas in design will open up.

The approach, then, is both innovative and unique because it combines the theoretical sophistication of Politics and Media Studies with the technical proficiency of Humanities Computing, eDemocracy, and Information Systems to expose important issues of online political information to critique in ways that were previously unavailable. [4] The work will open up theoretical and technological pathways towards a more genuinely identifiable (and sustainable) online political engagement and democratic structuring.



[1]One of the first major agencies to coin the term the ‘Data Deluge’ was the UK’s JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee):  Briefing Paper, Data Deluge: Preparing for the Explosion in Data, 1 November, 2004  <http://www.jisc.ac.uk/publications/briefingpapers/2004/pub_datadeluge.aspx> (Accessed 14 May, 2010).

[2] See: Clare Kurmond, Readership Decline Continues for Papers, Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, 14 Mat, 2010

< http://www.smh.com.au/business/media-and-marketing/readership-decline-continues-for-papers-20100513-v1tk.html> (Accessed 14 May, 2010).

[3]Interaction Design Evaluation Analysis (IDEA), Department of Information Systems, University of Melbourne,

< http://disweb.dis.unimelb.edu.au/research/interactiondesign//usability_lab.html> (Accessed 14 May 2010).

[4] Carson, L ‘Avoiding ghettos of like-minded people: Random selection and organisational collaboration’ in S. Schuman, (ed) Creating a Culture of Collaboration, ed. Jossey Bass/Wiley.pp.418-423.

 

White Paper: Political Issue Analysis System (PIAS)

Here is a paper that I co-authored for the Institute for Broadband Enabled Society (IBES) here at the University of Melbourne.

The Political Issues Analysis System (PIAS) project sought to investigate how citizens in Melbourne, Australia used the Internet to seek political information about key political issues. It also sought to understand how citizens contacted their elected representative about these issues. Through workshops, case studies, and the development and testing of a prototype, the research uncovered some notable trends in terms of engagement with components of the formal political system online”.

 

Why free is good for everyone…

Cyber radicals are harnessing the power of the internet to promote social change. Illustration: Lynsey Irvine and Peter Storey for the Observer

…20 years ago, set the agenda for far-reaching transformations in the political sphere, in economies everywhere, in social interaction, even in concepts of our own identity. And Berners-Lee succeeded in doing so for one reason: he released the technology for free.This simple decision, taken by a computer scientist used to working in environments that promoted openness and transparency, eclipses any hype about subsequent Twitter revolutions, Facebook campaigns or political protests ascribed to the platform since (link to story in the Guardian by Aleks Krotoski)

This story by Aleks Krotoski is OK, if not a little dated. There are lots of links on this blog about the use of the web for political purposes dating back about a decade. But I do like the way in which Krotoski (from the BBC series on the history of the internet) highlights the importance of free, open infrastructure for everyone. How lucky Australians are to have such a large public investment in a national Broadband network and such solid investment in the broader eResearch agenda (soon to include the humanities I hope!)

Internet meets Society (politics on the web links)

I gave a lecture today in a first year breath subject at the University of Melbourne on the web and its use within politics. I have listed the sites shown here (from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 approaches) (link to ppt. presentation)

UK.gov appeals for developers to mashup 1,000 datasets

UK.gov is calling on developers to consult the Cabinet Office on its prototype website that will open some government datasets to the public.

It wants the developer community to get involved in shaping what apps, data sources and features the website should contain.

“With over 1,000 existing data sets, from seven departments (brought together in re-useable form for the first time) and community resources, we want developers to work with us to use the data to create great applications; give us feedback on the early operational community; and tell us how to develop what we have into a single point of access for government-held public data,” reads a post on the government’s digital engagement blog (link).