Infotopia – Unleashing the Democratic Power of Transparency

Archon Fung has just published a new paper in Politics & Society, “Infotopia: Unleashing the Democratic Power of Transparency”.

Abstract

In Infotopia, citizens enjoy a wide range of information about the organizations upon which they rely for the satisfaction of their vital interests. The provision of that information is governed by principles of democratic transparency. Democratic transparency both extends and critiques current enthusiasms about transparency. It urges us to conceptualize information politically, as a resource to turn the behavior of large organizations in socially beneficial ways. Transparency efforts have targets, and we should think of those targets as large organizations: public and civic, but especially private and corporate. Democratic transparency consists of four principles. First, information about the operations and actions of large organizations that affect citizens’ interests should be rich, deep, and readily available to the public. Second, the amount of available information should be proportionate to the extent to which those organizations jeopardize citizens’ interests. Third, information should be organized and provided in ways that are accessible to individuals and groups that use that information. Finally, the social, political, and economic structures of society should be organized in ways that allow individuals and groups to take action based on Infotopia’s public disclosures.

Read the full paper here [PDF] / ht Alex Howard.

The Uncertain Relationship Between Open Data and Accountability

My article in response to Yu and Robinson’s recent paper on open data has just been published in the UCLA Law Review Discourse: The Uncertain Relationship Between Open Data and Accountability: A Response to Yu and Robinson’s The New Ambiguity of “Open Government”

Below is the abstract:

By looking at the nature of data that may be disclosed by governments, Harlan Yu and David Robinson provide an analytical framework that evinces the ambiguities underlying the term “open government data.” While agreeing with their core analysis, I contend that the authors ignore the enabling conditions under which transparency may lead to accountability, notably the publicity and political agency conditions. I argue that the authors also overlook the role of participatory mechanisms as an essential element in unlocking the potential for open data to produce better government decisions and policies. Finally, I conduct an empirical analysis of the publicity and political agency conditions in countries that have launched open data efforts, highlighting the challenges associated with open data as a path to accountability.

As I wrote the article, it became even more evident to me that the challenges for open data resemble those of democracy. To be successful, both depend on free press, fair elections, and multiple avenues of citizen participation. The resemblance goes one step further: both are most needed where they are least likely to thrive. On democracy and challenging environments, political scientist Robert Dahl wrote:

Democracy, it appears, is a bit chancy.  But its chances also depend on what we do ourselves.  Even if we cannot count on benign forces to favor democracy, we are not mere victims of blind forces over which we have no control. With adequate understanding of what democracy requires and the will to meet its requirements, we can act to preserve and, what is more, to advance democratic ideas and practices

May Dahl’s call resonate with the open data movement.

The Foundations of Motivation for Citizen Engagement

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Discussions about incentives to participate are increasingly common, but they are as shallow as most conversations nowadays about the subject of “feedback loops”. And very little reflection is actually dedicated to questions such as why, when and how people participate.

This is why this talk by Judd Antin, User Experience Researcher at Facebook, is one of the best I’ve heard lately. He goes a step further than making commonsensical assumptions, and examines the issue of motivations to participate in a more critical and systematic manner. When it comes to technology mediated processes, Judd is actually one of the few people looking seriously at the issue of incentives/motivations to participate.

In the talk Judd begins by arguing that “(…) the foundations of motivation in the age of social media, they are kind of the same as the foundations of motivation before the age of social media.” I cannot help but agree and sympathize with the statement. It is particularly annoying to  hear on a daily basis claims suggesting that individual and social processes are fundamentally altered by technologies, and “how new” this field is. “I don’t fool myself into thinking that this is a brand new world”, remarks Judd. Too bad so many are fooling themselves these days.

Judd’s take on incentives to participate is particularly sobering for some cheerleaders of gamification,  highlighting the limits of instrumental rewards and the need to focus on issues such as group identification, efficacy and – importantly – simplicity.

Finally, and on a more anecdotal note, it is interesting to see how some issues are similar across different spaces. At some point Judd points out that the “dislike” button is one of the features most requested by Facebook users. In a similar vein, one of the most requested features for e-Petitions platforms is the possibility to sign “against” a petition.

In both cases, these requests have been largely ignored. My feeling is that the implications for these choices of design for collective action are far from neutral, and these are issues that we should be looking at more closely.

In any case, Judd’s talk is great, and so are his articles: you can find a list of his most recent ones below.

Title / Author Year
SYSTEM FOR CUSTOM USER-GENERATED ACHIEVEMENT BADGES BASED ON ACTIVITY FEEDS
J Antin, EF Churchill, DA Shamma, M De Sa
US Patent 20,130,086,484
2013
Social desirability bias and self-reports of motivation: a study of amazon mechanical turk in the US and India
J Antin, A Shaw
Proceedings of the 2012 ACM annual conference on Human Factors in Computing …
2012
Profanity use in online communities
S Sood, J Antin, E Churchill
Proceedings of the 2012 ACM annual conference on Human Factors in Computing …
2012
Using Crowdsourcing to Improve Profanity Detection
SO Sood, J Antin, E Churchill
AAAI Spring Symposium Series, 69-74
2012
Local experts and online review sites
J Antin, M de Sa, EF Churchill
Proceedings of the acm 2012 conference on computer supported cooperative …
2012
Some of all human knowledge: gender and participation in peer production
A Forte, J Antin, S Bardzell, L Honeywell, J Riedl, S Stierch
Proceedings of the ACM 2012 conference on Computer Supported Cooperative …
2012
Apples to Oranges?: Comparing across studies of open collaboration/peer production
J Antin, EH Chi, J Howison, S Paul, A Shaw, J Yew
Proceedings of the 7th International Symposium on Wikis and Open …
2011
Gender differences in Wikipedia editing
J Antin, R Yee, C Cheshire, O Nov
Proceedings of the 7th International Symposium on Wikis and Open …
2011
Mobile augmented reality: video prototyping
M de Sá, J Antin, D Shamma, EF Churchill
Proceedings of the 2011 annual conference extended abstracts on Human …
2011
My kind of people?: perceptions about wikipedia contributors and their motivations
J Antin
Proceedings of the 2011 annual conference on Human factors in computing …
2011
Workshop on online reputation: context, privacy, and reputation management
J Antin, EF Churchill, BC Chen
Proceedings of the 20th international conference companion on World wide web …
2011
Technology-Mediated Contributions: Editing Behaviors Among New Wikipedians
J Antin, C Cheshire, O Nov
2011
Automatic identification of personal insults on social news sites
SO Sood, EF Churchill, J Antin
Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology
2011
Badges in social media: A social psychological perspective
J Antin, E Churchill
Human Factors, 1-4
2011
Toy Psychology-Using gaming tactics to shape our online behavior may not be as effective as some have hoped.
J Antin
Technology Review-Massachussets Institute ofTechnology-English Edition, 11
2011
General and Familiar Trust in Websites
C Cheshire, J Antin, KS Cook, E Churchill
Knowledge, Technology & Policy, 1-21
2010
Everyday favors: A case study of a local online gift exchange system
E Suhonen, A Lampinen, C Cheshire, J Antin
Proceedings of the 16th ACM international conference on Supporting group …
2010
Behaviors, adverse events, and dispositions: An empirical study of online discretion and information control
C Cheshire, J Antin, E Churchill
Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 61 (7 …
2010
NONE OF US IS AS LAZY AS ALL OF US
C Cheshire, J Antin
Information, Communication & Society 13 (4), 537-555
2010
With a little help from my friends: Self‐interested and prosocial behavior on MySpace Music
J Antin, M Earp
Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 61 (5 …
2010