Data Power Conference

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Panel Session 2c): The Politics of Open and Linked Data (Chair: Jo Bates)

 

"Publish Once, Use Often": The Ambiguous Goals of Aid Transparency Advocacy

James Pamment, University of Texas at Austin

The aid transparency movement received a welcome boost in December 2011 when dozens of states, multilateral actors, and NGOs signed up to the "Common Standard", an electronic database through which all aid expenditure could be published using the same criteria. Underpinning this agreement (known as the International Aid Transparency Agreement, or IATI), were statements about increased effectiveness, improved collaboration, and better decisions that could be made based on the availability of this data. This paper critically interrogates discourses surrounding the utility of the data; who is it for, how should it be used, and what the data says about aid communities. Drawing on a critical perspective informed by an interpretive analysis of policy documents and interviews, it places particular emphasis on peer review and peer pressure, the production of community and commonality, and the role of norms and standards.

 

Schema.org as Hegemony: The Politics of Linked Data Formats

Lindsay Piorer, Krisine Gloria, and Dominic Difranzo, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

In the same way that the capacity to hyperlink was transformative for establishing a decentralized but highly interconnected web of documents, the Resource Description Framework (RDF), as a data model, has been transformative in its capacity to flexibly describe and link related data points on the Web. However, as RDF becomes standardized into a data format, the resulting distilled schemas shape who and what can be considered meaningful on the Web.

In this paper, we will describe the debates that have arisen around Schema.org – an initiative backed by Google, Bing, and Yahoo that aims to improve search engine results by giving machines not only the capacity to interpret how content should be rendered on a web page (according to HTML code), but also the capacity to interpret, through embedded markup, usually in the form of microdata, what the content is about. There has been much debate within the Schema.org community about how extensive the schema should be – too few vocabularies would mean that certain subjects go unrepresented, but too many may inhibit mass adoption. Designers thus have settled on a “middle ontology” that does not aim to be an ontology of everything, but instead aims to cover the topics that most users will use. Upon examining the schema, however, it becomes apparent that the conceptualization of most users topics’ is primarily Western businesses. This paper will thus consider how the data formats for linked data, and the actors and policies that govern them, both discursively and materially enact Western-dominant information hegemonies.

 

The Rise of the Knowledge Base: The Construction and Flow of Factual Data in the Age of User-Generated Content

Heather Ford, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

A knowledge base is a technical system that represents facts about the world. Together with an inference engine (a system that applies rules in order to deduce new facts), knowledge bases form the foundation of “expert systems” in the field of artificial intelligence. In recent years there has been a rapid development of user-generated knowledge bases such as Wikidata, Freebase and Musicbrainz. In turn, Google has used these knowledge bases to provide a new service to those searching for information on the search engine called the "Knowledge Graph". Searching for “Who wrote the book, Trainspotting?” on Google, for example, will bring up a featured infobox with the answer to the user’s query (“Irvine Walsh”) instead of a list of articles in which the searched-for question appears. Not every query is as simply answered as the example of Irvine Walsh, however. Different communities hold different views about what the capital of Israel is, or how many people died in World War II, for example. The question is: how does the Google interface respond to such diversity of viewpoints? In this paper, I explore the socio-technical foundations of knowledge bases in the current age of user-generated content, highlighting how knowledge bases are constructed using particular notions of what is knowledge, information and data, and what the ethical implications of such definitions might be as we become increasingly reliant on expert systems in the progress of daily life.

 

The Politics of Open Data

Jonathan Gray, Royal Holloway, University of London and Digital Methods Initiative, University of Amsterdam

Advocates argue that the “open data revolution” will enable greater transparency, accountability and public participation; new civic applications and services; greater government efficiency; technological innovation and new businesses and startups (Kitchin, 2014). Critics argue that open data initiatives may end up empowering the empowered (Gurstein, 2011) or acting as an instrument of a programme of austerity, neoliberalisation and marketisation of public services (Bates, 2012, 2013, 2014; Longo, 2011; Margetts, 2013).

This paper draws on a combination of historical and empirical research to examine open data as a contested political concept that is continually reconfigured in response to shifting ideals, conceptions and practices of governance and democracy in different contexts. This includes work towards a “genealogy of open data” (Gray, 2014), as well as the findings from several research projects at the Digital Methods Initiative to map the politics of open data as an issue on the web using digital “methods of the medium” (Marres and Rogers, 2005; Rogers, 2013).

Building on this historical and empirical research, the paper will propose a stronger social and democratic agenda for open data as a political concept. It will challenge the focus on growth, innovation and efficiency, and argue for a conception of open data supporting progressive campaigning, public interest journalism and democratic participation – looking at recent advocacy around tax justice and drawing on research on “statactivism” and statistics as an instrument of social critique (Desrosières, 2014; Isabelle, Emmanuel and Tommaso, 2014).

Bates, J. (2012). ‘This is what modern deregulation looks like’: Co-optation and contestation in the shaping of the UK's Open Government Data Initiative. The Journal of Community Informatics, Vol 8, No 2.page1image16016 page1image16176

Bates, J. (2013) The Domestication of Open Government Data Advocacy in the United Kingdom: A Neo-Gramscian Analysis. Policy & Internet. Vol 5, Issue 1, 118-137. March 2013.

Bates, J. (2014) The Strategic Importance of Information Policy for the Contemporary Neoliberal State: The Case of Open Government Data in the United Kingdom. Government Information Quarterly. Vol. 31, Issue 3, 388-395.

Desrosières, A. (2014) Statistics and social critique. Partecipazione e Conflitto: Vol. 7, No. 2.

Isabelle, B., Emmanuel, D. & Tommaso, V. (2014), "Statactivism: forms of action between disclosure and affirmation", in Partecipazione e conflitto. The Open Journal of Sociopolitical Studies, vol. 7, n. 2, pp. 198-220.

Gray, J. (2014) Towards a Genealogy of Open Data. Paper presented at the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) General Conference 2014, University of Glasgow.

Gurstein, M. B. (2011) Open data: Empowering the empowered or effective data use for everyone?. First Monday: 16:2-7.

Longo, J. (2011). “#Opendata: Digital-Era Governance Thoroughbred or New Public Management Trojan Horse?” Public Policy & Governance Review. Vol. 2, No. 2, 38.

Kitchin, R. (2014) The Data Revolution: Big Data, Open Data, Data Infrastructures and their Consequences. London: Sage.

Margetts, H. (2013) “Data, Data Everywhere: Open Data versus Big Data in the Quest for Transparency”. In Bowles, N. Hamilton, J. T. & Levy, D. (eds), Transparency in Politics and the Media: Accountability and Open Government. London: I. B. Tauris & Co.

Marres, N. and R. Rogers (2005) “Recipe for tracing the fate of issues and their publics on the Web”. In B. Latour and P. Weibel (Eds.) Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Rogers, R. (2013). Digital Methods. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.