Data Power Conference

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Panel Details: Politics, Economics, Data (Chair: Nora Draper)

Evolution of the Data Economy: Lessons from Early Railroad History Seen Through the Lenses of General Evolution

Mika Pantzar, Helsinki University

The success of a value network depends on building a rich web of relationships generating different forms of traffic flows between various actors. Taking this claim and a specific variant of evolutionary economics, the replicative model of evolution, as starting points, this paper suggests that developments we are witnessing in the data economy resembles in many ways developments of US railroads in the 19th century. Both cases evidence dramatic economic and cultural consequences when single (traffic) lines and connections become integrated into compartmentalized networks. Both cases evidence the huge financial effects of governing and coordinating (and de-coordinating) traffic flows. The success of emerging network are related to better connections, huge increase in traffic made possible by standardization and organizational innovations. In the beginning ecosystems and standards are born around technically oriented businesses. In time the major business firms are transformed into bureaucratic giants with multifaceted connections both to other businesses and everyday life. In general, evolutionary theories offer useful tools when explaining the emergence of extensive cycles of interactions. These developments are conditioned by the interplay of early radical experimenting phases and more conservative system preserving phases. It is still open whether the same thing happens as with the giant railway companies a hundred years ago: The strategic attention of the management of data giants (google, facebook, amazon) becomes increasingly focused on competition law, political lobbying and logic of finance. At the same time, the operational logic based on excellence and experimentation is steamrolled by bureaucratic development and financial consideration.


Conceiving Empathic Media and Outlining Stakeholder Interests (With Some Surprising Results)

Andrew McStay, Bangor University

This paper outlines what in Privacy and Philosophy: New Media and Affective Protocol (2014) I account for as “empathic media”, or those technologies sensitive to emotion and psychophysiological states. In my paper I will outline the theoretical underpinnings of empathic media along with social consequences, paying particular to European legislation and industry understanding of empathic data. Legal and commercial insights are framed by ongoing interviews on the nature and scope of empathic media with stakeholders from the UK, San Francisco/Silicon Valley region and Tel Aviv. These include data protection regulators, angel investors, health-based wearables start-ups, marketers and audience researchers, user experience and games agencies, and voice analytics companies.


The Political Economy of Data in Collective Impact Strategies

Alexander Fink, University of Minnesota

Collective impact strategies bring together nonprofit organizations and governments in a structured way to move the needle on social issues using shared agendas, activities, and communication strategies. A major emphasis of these efforts is on measuring outcomes and impacts. Doing so requires gathering data from the sometimes hundreds of organizations involved and triangulating this data with more specific research studies, as well as neighborhood- and community-level economic impact assessments. Collective impact efforts are rapidly growing in popularity, both in the form of grassroots organizing strategies (bottom-up) and policy approaches (top-down).

Building off previous research on the political economy of data as it affects Social Work in the United States, this paper addresses the discourses around data in collective impact movements. What arguments are being made about data collection and analysis? How are these movements using data to measure and justify activities? Who manages this data and how do they do it? How does data collection, analysis, and visualization shape movement efforts and stakeholder opinions and investments? Perhaps most importantly, this paper inquires into the ways that marginalized people, and especially young people, are excluded, marginalized, and/or pathologized through these data collection and use strategies. These questions are addressed through a discursive analysis of public documents of collective impact efforts, including meeting minutes, official publications, scholarly analysis, and other documents. Highlighted are potential openings and counterarguments for those interested in shifting collective impact movements towards more justice-related data collection and use strategies.


Brokerage: Mediating Datafication, Citizenship and the City

Alison Powell (London School of Economics and Political Science)

Datafication is transforming citizenship in cities around the world by introducing new relationships between citizens and governments. This paper examines how the emergence of various forms of data brokerage by companies as well as civic entities recasts notions of citizenship and institutional responsibility. For local government, pressure to roll back the state sets up a new kind of perspective on citizenship that shifts from seeing citizens as those with civic responsibilities and engagements, to classifying them as consumers. Datafication often appears to promise greater efficiency in the delivery of services, since information can be obtained at the point where these services are delivered: for example, a sensor on a rubbish bin ensures it is emptied only when full, which might facilitate more efficient refuse collection.

A consumer perspective on citizenship transforms the relationship between government, individuals and corporate entities. In a data city, this transformed relationship is evidenced by production, exchange, and brokerage of data. Citizens can become consumer-producers of data, creating value for governments and for the companies that provide brokerage of that data. Governments too become consumers, of analytics that help them to rationally manage resources that are deemed scarce. This situation invites participation from brokers who can negotiate the relationships between these two entities, positioning them both as consumers, but of different packages of analytic data. This paper compares and contrasts different forms of commercial and “civic” data brokers, identifying how each kind of brokerage leverages analytic resources and contributes to the construction, imagination, and valuation of data in the city.