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25/07/11 Research

US and EU in search of an Open Government R&D agenda: 44 topics in 4 clusters

Open Government is not only changing politics and policies but is also redefining the notion of established research areas such as e-government and e-democracy.  The world of research – with the active participation of practitioners – needs to define an Open Government R&D agenda for the years to come.

In this post – just a note to myself – I list some interesting research topics classified into 4 main areas.

Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and the US Open Government Directive of December 2009 profoundly changed the way governments of the whole world are conceiving the role of ICT in the Public Sector. Obama’s Directive, which directly (and almost immediately) influenced policy making in most OECD countries and also contributed to the growth of bottom-up initiatives, is now impacting the world of research.

Key questions such as the actual impact of open government data on citizens and enterprises remain largely unanswered. It is not just a matter of democratic principles and political messages, or transparency only. The diffusion of web 2.0 technologies and user-driven innovations in the public sector – along with the creation of new business opportunities coming from the re-use of government data by the private sector – is changing the perspective of interdisciplinary but actually quite separated research fields such as e-government (focused on the use of ICT in internal processes and in public services provision) and e-democracy (focused on citizen engagement through technologies such as on line polling and voting, deliberation, consultation). Teresa M. Harrison and her colleagues from the Center for Technology in Government (CTG) at the University of Albany SUNY made this clear in a paper published a few days ago: “Although e-democracy in political and e-government in administrative realms have historically been largely separated, it now appears Open Government brings these two spheres of activity together”. 
On the one hand, the provision of e-government services not only requires technical expertise but also, inevitably, implies political choices. On the other hand, e-government implementation should take advantage of the “power of the crowd” and the opportunities that come from involving the citizen and the private sector in new forms of public-private collaboration.

As boundaries between research domains are blurring, time has come to define an Open Government holistic framework and a global Open Government R&D agenda.

In Europe, the CROSSROAD project, a Support Action funded by the European Commission, has produced a Research Roadmap for “ICT for governance and policy modeling”, as defined by the objective 7.3 of the EU Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) 2009-2010. A white paper published in December 2010 and edited by Fenareti Lampathaki, Sotiris Koussouris, Yannis Charalabidis and Dimitris Askounis (National Technical University of Athens) identifies five main research themes and a three-level taxonomy. As the point of view is the broader concept of ICT for governance and policy making, a set of useful tools and research domains that are not usually considered in the current debate on Open Government are included here. This is the case of public opinion mining tools, which could be used to find out, for example, what types of citizens care about which type of government information. Another examples are the technologies that the EU classifies into the “Future Internet” studies, some of which (e.g. the Internet of Services) are based on government linked data availability.

In the US, the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology (PCAST) highlighted the importance of establishing an R&D agenda for open government in a report issued in December 2010. The Open Government Research & Development Summit was hosted on March 21-22nd, 2011 by the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) Program. The summit brought together government leaders and researchers to explore the needs of the community, and was organized by the office of the U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, while Beth Noveck – law professor at the New York Law School – was one of the prime movers on getting the meeting to happen.
Building on this first event, a workshop organized by the Center for Technology in Government (CTG) in Albany, New York on April 27-28th gathered a number of academics, practitioners and, moreover, hundreds of research questions still unanswered. These questions were then clustered into omogeneous groups such as “the value / ecosystem of Open Government”, “What do citizens want?”, “Government capabilities”, etc. As a second step, research questions were considered by four lenses: 1) law and policy, 2) management, 3) technology and 4) cross-cutting. Professor Ines Mergel reported on this in her blog: day one and day two. Furthermore, a full list of all the questions is now available in a CTG report prepared by Meghan Cook and M. Alexander Jurkat, which also include an interesting list of the biggest challenges faced in Open Government as perceived by the participants.

EU CROSSROAD project and US CTG workshop came up with quite similar research themes and questions, with CTG themes mainly comprised in the first section of CROSSROAD taxonomy “Open government Information and Intelligence for transparency”. Other CROSSROAD areas partially in common with the US approach are, for example, “Social computing, citizen engagement and inclusion” and “Identity management and trust in governance”.

In the following table I try to combine some of the most interesting aspects of the CROSSROAD and CTG exercises, that is a robust identification of research clusters and the use of “lens” corresponding to different disciplines.
Questions and themes are grouped together on the basis of data and information flows from government to citizens and back from citizens and businesses to government. With reference to the figure:

  1. Open / linked data “supply side”: how to foster meaningful and useful government data publication? What implications / impact within the government agencies?
  2. Open / linked data “demand side”: how to meet citizen and businesses needs? How to support data use and re-use?
  3. Social computing: How to involve the citizen in collaboration projects / activities?
  4. Citizen engagement: How to involve the citizen in democracy?
    For each combination of cluster / research theme vs. lens / research discipline I list some examples of questions and topics particularly interesting to me.

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