New project alert: what has open data done for you lately?

Five years ago, I blogged about my Open Data Study, an interview-based report commissioned by the Transparency and Accountability Initiative to investigate what drove the rapid adoption of open data policies in the UK and US.

I’m now embarking on a new project, commissioned by the Omidyar Network, to examine the impact open data has had to date.

Those close to me know I’ve been trying to avoid working for big non-profits in order to get back to more personal writing projects. But when Omidyar’s Laura Bacon approached me earlier this year about working with her on this, I found it hard to resist jumping back in.

The reason is that this new study will attempt to answer a question left hanging in my report of 2010. Does it matter that open data was sold to governments on a prospectus of potential and not proven impact? Five years ago, I wrote:

It was the utility of applications (in contrast to the resources expended to produce them) and not their broad user bases, which seem to have inspired officials further up the line to engage with the open data agenda.

Five years on, I’m hoping to investigate not just how many people are using applications and services built upon open government data, but what impact this is having on their lives and the lives of those around them, be that social, economic, political or environmental. I’m going to do this through a series of case studies, and I’m hoping to find stories of open data impact at scale from around the world, and from sectors as diverse as health, journalism, transport and policing.

I’m by no means alone in my search for stories about the impact of open data. Projects with similar aims are afoot at the Open Data Institute, Open Knowledge, Sunlight, NYU’s GovLab and probably a bunch of other places I don’t know about too. And the initial stages of my work have been guided by a bunch of clever folk who’ve been thinking about how to measure the impact of open data for a long while, including the Open Data Barometer’s Tim Davies (thanks, Tim!) and Rebecca Rumbul at mySociety (whose sold-out conference on the impact of civic tech, TICTeC 2015, I attended last week).

So, if you’re interested in open data impact, or if you have a story to share, please do get in touch.

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Now on general sale – A Guide to the Internet for Human Rights Defenders

InternetDefendersMy new book, A Guide to the Internet for Human Rights Defenders is now available to buy on Amazon, or order in your local bookshop. Originally commissioned by Global Partners Digital in the run up to NETmundial, the Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance held in Brazil last year, this new edition has been simplified and re-formatted for a more general audience.

A Guide to the Internet for Human Rights Defenders explains the history and workings of the internet, who governs it, and who has the power to affect our rights online. Written in a breezy, accessible style and with an extensive glossary of technical terms, this small volume will prove, I hope, to be an indispensable guide for students, business leaders and policymakers new to the world of internet governance and human rights.

Buy it here, or contact me if you’re interested in bulk orders direct from the publisher.

Caitlin Moran: How to Build a Girl

My review of Caitlin Moran’s book How to Build a Girl (out in the States this week) is up on BoingBoing:

Caitlin Moran’s How to Build a Girl is the story of Johanna Morrigan, poor, fat teenager from the economic backwater of 1990s Wolverhampton, and her transformation into legendary music critic and Lady Sex Adventurer, Dolly Wilde.

Thanks to a lot of hard graft at Wolverhampton’s public library, where she can read the specialist press and order any album she likes for 20p, Morrigan/Wilde finds herself anointed into the pre-Internet indie music elite as star reviewer for the Disc & Music Echo. Once there, she learns that the best way to stay on top is to write like a critic, not a fan (like “some weird angry old man, puncturing the ball of every band who kicked it over my fence”), and to stand at the back of concerts, scowling with the other writers, instead of dancing at the front.

Read the rest here.

How To Build a Girl book cover

Mind’s Eye: Tour the solar system at home and in Brighton, courtesy of Little Atoms and Shrinking Space

Last weekend found me in my old home town, Brighton. It’s the Brighton Digital Festival this month, and as part of that, Shrinking Space, in collaboration with Little Atoms and the European Space Agency, have put on a fantastic audio installation called “Mind’s Eye” at the old fruit and veg market building on Circus Street. I went to check it out with my Mum last Saturday.

circus street market building

The building

Mind’s Eye is an attempt “to explore and understand the Solar System through the voices of those most familiar with it”. Though it is only five minutes’ walk from the seafront, most Brightonians will only know Circus Street through visits to the infamous all night “Market Diner” café opposite. Shrinking Space productions have transformed the vast and dilapidated market building into an audiosphere representing the entire solar system. When you enter, you are given headphones and a ready-tuned iPod radio. Then, as you drift around the building, you are pulled into the orbit of the various interviews being broadcast in different parts of it, each with a scientist or space explorer whose knowledge of the planet or star they are describing often represents a lifetime’s work. The effect is bewitching, like floating through space itself, with only the occasional transmission back to earth for company.

participant at mind's eye

One happy listener

Little Atoms’ Neil Denny, heir to Melvyn Bragg, conducted the interviews. The first of three Little Atoms shows dedicated to the project was broadcast last week on London’s Resonance 104.4FM, and is available here. It features interviews with Gerhard Schwehm, Mission Manager for the Rosetta comet chaser, Dr Caitriona Jackman on the Cassini mission to Saturn and Dr Peter Grindrod on Mars. There will be a second instalment this week (with Dr Katherine Joy on the Moon, and Sandra Cauffman of the MAVEN project, whose spacecraft successfully entered Mars’s orbit yesterday). The final instalment next week features an unforgettable interview with former Space Shuttle astronaut Gerhard Thiele, as well as my Mum’s favourite from the show, Dr Helen Mason on the Sun.

If you can make it down to the installation itself, I would recommend you do so. It runs this Friday 26th September, 3:30pm-6pm, and Saturday and Sunday 27th and 28th, 10am-6pm. More info here.

chair at shrinking space

New book! Internet Policy and Governance for Human Rights Defenders

This week, Global Partners have published the first in their series of “Travel Guides” to the digital world, Internet Policy and Governance for Human Rights Defenders which I authored under contract to them last year.

The aim of the guide is to entice human rights defenders from the Global South to participate in the discussions happening now around our rights online. But it should also serve as a useful introduction to the technologies that underpin the ‘net and the people who can affect our lives online, from governments to corporations, hackers, hacktivists and everything in between:

Global Partners write:

How the internet operates and is governed affects the rights of users – a new field from which human rights expertise is currently absent. Civil society groups at the table are fighting an unequal fight, and urgently need the strength and depth that the human rights community can bring. It is time for human rights defenders to familiarise themselves with the internet, and prepare to defend human rights online.

The beautiful typesetting and illustrations are by Tactical Studios. The volume is released Creative Commons and you can download a free .pdf version here.

 

My review of Jeremy Rifkin’s “The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism”

The Arc blog have published my review of Jeremy Rifkin’s new book, “The Zero Marginal Cost Society”:

The trick to reading Jeremy Rifkin’s latest work is to treat it less like a book and more like a mystical text. That’s because Rifkin, a prolific writer and the management guru most likely to be found at an Occupy sit-in, has synthesised so many ideas within it that laboring over the contradictions seems like missing the point.

The clue is in the book’s multiple titles. Capitalism has been our bright sun for two centuries, but as the human journey continues, technological advance driven by capitalism’s (ultimately) self-destructive quest for efficiency will serve to reduce the marginal cost of producing everything to near-zero, and a new star, called “the commons” will begin to attract us to its orbit.

Read the full text here.

My review of Dave Eggers’ “The Circle”

My review of Dave Eggers’ The Circle has just been posted up on the Arc blog:

In what has swiftly become a time-worn tradition, Dave Eggers’ techno-capitalist dystopia The Circle opens with a tour of the campus. And the campus of the Circle, Eggers’ post-Google/Facebook/Twitter hybrid, makes the last time we looked round the real-life Googleplex, watching Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in The Internship, feel like a tour of the offices of a public utility firm.

Which is, coincidentally, where Mae Holland, the novel’s protagonist, has just arrived from: she has been languishing amid burlap and her boss’s halitosis since graduating from $250,000-worth of liberal arts education…

Arc  is the magazine of science fiction and the felt future edited by Simon Ings and published quarterly by the New Scientist. Issue 2.1 “Exit Strategies”, which includes contributions from CERN physicist Michael Doser and M. John Harrison, and stories by Jeff Noon, Kathleen Ann Goonan, and Tad Williams, is out now.