Sep 232014
 

View a .PDF version of this report here

“Government 2.0 involves direct citizen engagement in conversations about government services and public policy through open access to public sector information and new Internet based technologies. It also encapsulates a way of working that is underpinned by collaboration, openness and engagement”[1]

Back ground and context

The Political Issues Analysis System (PIAS) project (view original report .pdf)—in which this work is a sub-set—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 and interacted with their elected representative in relation to these issues. Through workshops, case studies, and the development and testing of prototype software, the research uncovered some notable trends in terms of user engagement with important aspects of the formal political process online.

The PIAS project principally focussed upon citizen information use through investigating interaction with party web-sites and the policy documents that they made available. However, the participants in our study largely found 1), the sites difficult to use 2), the information hard to navigate and compare with other policies and 3), the written policies unreliable and unclear. One of our key recommendations from the study emphasized that polices published by political parties should be made available in a ‘machine readable’ form so that they can be automatically aggregated into other systems to enable citizens to compare the policy positions of the parties. Also, strict metadata publishing standards and frameworks should be used so that the information aggregated is of a high-standard allowing it be re-utilised effectively.

This work compliments the PIAS project through listing some of the key projects and services that available that utilise government data. It also explores in more detail the limited availability of what could be termed ‘democratic data’. For the purposes here, “democratic data” is described as: 1) Hansard: making the working of government available in new ways, 2) Transparency: newer forms of transparency through ‘data’, and 3) Policy: enhance and extend the policy making process through online open consultation.

Why Open Access to government data?

Much of the impetus behind the drive for Open Access to government data stems from a push for greater transparency to the functions of government. However, in the case of Victoria, for instance, much of the data being released within the Gov 2.0 agenda tends to be of an administrative nature and of little democratic potential. Whist the Parliament of Victoria does make an enormous amount of useful material available to the public through its website; it is not made available in a technically sophisticated, machine readable way, to take full advantage of the potential of the Internet. Bills are only available in .pdf or word format and the most important document about the workings of government, Hansard, is also only available as .pdf (although it is possible to do a full-text search of Hansard from 1991 onwards). If these important documents were available in a machine readable form, they could be utilised by application developers in innovative ways.

The Open Access movement is a push to make data both machine readable and interoperable so that it may be linked together and leveraged for all sorts of purposes. This may be for new business opportunities, medical research, or new areas of social research. However, doing this is no easy task as multiple data sources require linking and matching across diverse and complex systems (and ‘cleansing’). The first step in this process is to expose data in a standardised way so that it may be located and machine-read. The Victorian public sector has a policy framework specifically designed to achieve these tasks titled the Victorian Public Sector Action Plan. Two key points are:

  1. Participation: Engaging communities and citizen through using Government 2.0 initiatives to put citizens at the centre and provide opportunities for co-design, co-production and co-delivery.
  2. Transparency: Opening up government through making government more open and transparent through the release of public sector data and information[2]

Making data available in this way can only help to “deepen democratic processes” and promote a strong and healthy democracy (however this is often an aspiration rather than an actuality).[3] Accordingly, there is a promising international trend to promote a two-way dialogue between political representatives and the public through combining ‘’democratic data’’ with citizen produced data through popular social media platforms.[4] Rather than building a completely new platform (as has been the case with a number of somewhat underutilised government initiatives), some projects take advantage of largely existing and heavily used social network platforms and provide tools and services to augment their existing capacity (usually to inform and communicate government policy processes) The large EU funded WeGov project[5] and other projects in the US and Europe are welcome movements in this direction. [6]

Continue reading »

Sep 162014
 
 Posted by on September 16, 2014 history No Responses »

If you are free on the night of October 14, come to Mr Wows Emporium, 79B Smith Street, Fitzroy (upstairs), to Nerd Night Melbourne.  This is a night were specialists (nerds) talk about all sorts of subjects from environmental politics, moon-landing crafts, and pharmaceutical research. And on the night of October the 14th, I will be talking about the history of Smith Street, with two other speakers (on different subjects).

Why is Smith Street important? A history of one of Melbourne’s most diverse streets

Smith Street is one of Melbourne’s oldest, most eccentric, and more interesting thoroughfares dating back to the first suburban land subdivision in Melbourne in 1838. It forms the eastern border of Fitzroy, Melbourne’s first suburb, and the western border of Collingwood. It was originally a winding dirt track that went to Heidelberg, being the only road out of the City to the North. In Victorian times it was one the busiest and most important shopping centres in the Australian colonies, until it went into decline in the 1970s. From the labyrinthine Foy and Gibson’s, one of the world’s largest and most eclectic department stores, to secret tunnels for ‘’women shoppers’’, to the first Coles store in Australia, to a long history of struggle between rich and poor, Smith Street is an significant route for understanding urban Australian experience.

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Aug 132014
 
 Posted by on August 13, 2014 digital humanities, events No Responses »

thatcamp_melb_mj

Registrations now open for Melbourne THATCamp 2014!

http://www.2014.thatcampmelbourne.org/

THATCamp, Melbourne, 2014, will be held at the University of Melbourne on the 10-11 October, 2014 (Free event!)

THATCamp is all about participation, discussion, and fun through fostering a productive, collegial environment. The program for THATCamp is created and managed by participants on the day who vote on the sessions proposed.

In preparation for the event we ask you to start thinking about some potential topics to workshop on the day. The core theme of THATCamp Melbourne is pedagogy, although any aspect of digital humanities work is welcome.

To get the ball rolling, here are some suggestions: ‘blended learning’ in humanities teaching,  spaces for learning with technology, the creation, access and critical use of digital resources in teaching; grading and assessment through learning management systems,  social media in the humanities, for instance sentiment analysis, visualisation of historical phenomena, or MOOCs in the DH.

We look forward to your proposals,

Kind regards,

Amanda, Craig, and Fiona

Jul 242014
 
 Posted by on July 24, 2014 post card, travel No Responses »

14764192504_b578c0bae7_oI am sitting in my little room overlooking the strand. The room is on the corner of the Strand and Waterloo Bridge and despite the size of the room, the view is large. And this song by the Kinks is running through my head.

“Dirty Old River must you keep rolling, rolling into the night. People so busy makes me feel dizzy, taxi lights shine so bright. But I don’t need no friend, as long as gaze on Waterloo Sunset I’m in paradise…”

Overall, it is coming to the end of my trip. I do think that this has been one of my best trips ever, but it is hard to tell because I have had quite a few! Travel is exhilarating, but it is also exhausting in the sense that there is so much to do that it is important to manage ones energies. There are so many wonderfully unique and renewed perspectives that I have gained on this trip, especially here in London. Travel is about exploration, but also renewal (or revisiting afresh). It is like reading a book, if you don’t plan to read it again, don’t start reading it in the first place (to paraphrase Wilde).

So, on my last day of London I’m feeling pretty grand. I have had some wonderful experiences on this trip, and with most developed world travel, the gaps between the highs and the lows haven’t been that great.

My gut feeling tells that going to South America for a whole year next year is a really good idea, but for a new and exploratory trip like this one , I possibly need to re-visit SE Asia and India on the way, because if I don’t re-visit them, I will keep going to the same place over and over again.  I change my eyes, not my cities!

Jun 242014
 
 Posted by on June 24, 2014 collaboration No Responses »

There are now many different products available for collaborative authoring of documents. The choice of which software to use depends on the particular type of authoring task being undertaken and the nature of the group undertaking the tasks. In academic work, the collaborative authoring of papers has become much more common, supported by products such as Microsoft Office, Google Docs or lesser known services such as Wiggio. However, the writing of academic articles is a highly formal and specialised process, thus in there is a need for high-calibre editing, review, citation and versioning mechanisms, especially when more than one or two authors is involved.

Whilst Google Docs was quick-off-the-mark in terms of providing a cloud-based service for the writing and editing of documents by multiple-authors, the service lacked the tools required for the more formal aspects of academic writing (such as structuring long articles, embedded tables and images, and collaborative editing, particularly through tracking-changes to the documents). Many academics settled on the power of Microsoft Word, with its sophisticated editing and track changes functionality, and then simply swapped version of the documents through email or via cloud-based services such as DropBox. This type of collaboration may be effective for thesis writing or small collaborations between say two people, but when more authors are involved it becomes highly inefficient as versioning (manual) becomes problematic as does the ability to locate who is working on what documents at a particular time.

In terms of collaborative authoring, Google Docs and Microsoft have come a long way in the past couple of years; especially in terms of the integration of their services with their respective cloud drives (Google Drive and One Drive). These cloud drives allows for the sharing and storage of documents in one central location (as with DropBox) but with the advantage of having the authoring, editing and review tools built in (ie. Word and Google Docs). Authors can work on the same document at the same time, with the contributions of each author recorded for review by the other authors.

Microsoft Office 365 is the cloud-based version of the familiar Office and offers the Office suite of tools with a large amount of storage (in OneDrive). The cloud version of Word that comes with Office 365 is not as sophisticated as the off-line version of Word, but it is integrated with it and Word documents may be down-loaded if needed. Documents may be worked on collaboratively in real-time, and then down-loaded and refined for submission as a journal article or book chapter. One of the authors, the lead author or the submitting author, could download the Word document from OneDrive, refine it in the offline version of Word, then submit it to a publisher. This is a very effective way of collaboratively authoring papers.

Jun 212014
 
 Posted by on June 21, 2014 post card, travel No Responses »

tallinn_tortureI arrived last night in my charming hostel in the Old Town of Tallinn, Estonia. I was greeted at the airport by my friend Jaan who I worked with in Melbourne a couple of years ago. Estonia is the 42nd country that I have visited and I am  not sure why I count how many countries I have been; it seems a little crude, but it is on a very basic level, one of may things that motivates me to explore new places. I have wanted to come to this part of Europe for many years, I have only been in Eastern Europe a couple of times, and never this close to the Russian Border. I was walking in Old Town last night and my friend Jaan pointed out a plaque on the wall of an expensive apartment building that stated that this is a place where the KGB tortured many Estonians.  I certainly evoked my imagination, especially in terms of wanting to learn more, but I don’t have that much time in Tallinn and travel is necessarily superficial. I first started traveling the exact time of the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the ghosts of the Cold War have been following me ever since.