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07/12/15 Civic Technology , Open Policy # , , , , , , ,

OpenCoesione School – A scalable learning format using OpenData as Educational Resources

OpenCoesione School – A scalable learning format using OpenData as Educational Resources

The third edition of the open education project “OpenCoesione School” was launched on November 18th, 2015. While you are reading this post, about 2800 students and 200 teachers are involved in a collective learning experience focused on civic monitoring public funding through open data analysis, and also  visiting sites, and conducting journalistic research.

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OpenCoesione School – or ASOC, from Italian “A Scuola di OpenCoesione” – is an educational challenge and a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) designed for students in Italian secondary schools. ASOC was launched in 2013 within the open government strategy on cohesion policy carried out by the national agencies responsible for Cohesion Policy in Italy, in partnership with the Ministry of Education and the Representation Office of the European Commission in Italy. The project is also supported by the European Commission’s network of Europe Direct Information Centres.  

With a very limited budget compared to other similar practices, the project was designed in 2013 by a diverse group of experts including Damien Lanfrey and Donatella Solda from the Ministry of Education (who are now leading the ambitious Italian National Plan for Digital Schools), Simona De Luca, Carlo Amati, Aline Pennisi, Paola Casavola, Lorenzo Benussi and myself as members of the OpenCoesione scientific committee, and a specifically designated team including Chiara Ciociola and Andrea Nelson Mauro.   Francesca Mazzocchi, Marco Montanari and Gianmarco Guazzo joined the team in the following editions. Other OpenCoesione staff members such as Chiara RicciMara Giua and Marina De Angelis also contributed to the project.  

 

From Open Data to Civic Engagment

The objectives of ASOC are to engage participating schools towards actively promoting the use and reuse of open data for the development of civic awareness and engagement with local communities in monitoring the effectiveness of public investment. The participating students and teachers design their research using data from the 900,000 projects hosted on the national OpenCoesione portal. On OpenCoesione, everyone can find transparent information regarding the investment on projects funded by Cohesion Policies in Italy as it provides data with detailed information regarding the amount of funding, policy objectives, locations, involved subjects and completion times.  Schools can select the data they want to use in their research which can be related with their region or city.  

The program is designed in six main sessions. The first four sessions aim at developing innovative and interdisciplinary skills such as digital literacies and data analysis to understand and critically understand the use of public money. Thanks to a highly interactive process, students learn basic public policy analysis techniques such as identifying policy rationales for interventions and comparing policy goals with results. This process employs “civic” monitoring tools of the civil society initiative Monithon in order to work on of real cases. Data journalism and transmedia storytelling techniques are used as well.

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Schools that participated in the 2nd edition

During the fifth session, and based on the information acquired, ASOC students carry out on-site visits to the public works or services in their territory that are financed by EU and national funds for local development. They also conduct interviews with the key stakeholders involved in the projects’ implementation, the final beneficiaries and other actors. Finally, the sixth session is a final event where students meet with their local communities and policy-makers to discuss their findings, with the ultimate goal to keep the administrators accountable for their decisions. Here you can find all the video sessions and exercises: http://www.ascuoladiopencoesione.it/lezioni/.

 

Innovative learning

The teaching method combines asynchronous and synchronous learning. The asynchronous model is designed following a  typical of MOOC (Massive Online Open Courses) style where participants learn through a series of activities and teachers are trained by the central ASOC team through a series of webinars. In the synchronous in-class sessions, these share a common structure where each class starts with one or more videos from the MOOC, followed by a group exercise where the participants get involved in teacher-led classroom activities. These activities are organized around the development of the research projects and reproduce a flipped classroom setting.

In between lessons, students work independently to prepare data analysis reports and original final projects. Also, in order to have an impact on local communities and institutions, the students are actively supported by local associations that contribute with specific expertise in the field of open data or on specific topics such as environmental issues, anti-mafia activities, local transportation, etc. Furthermore, the European Commission’s network of information centers “Europe Direct” (EDIC), is involved supporting the activities and disseminating the results. On ASOCs’ website there is a blog dedicated to share and disseminate the students’ activities on social networks.

ASOC’s pedagogical methodology is centered around specific goals, well-defined roles and decision-making. This has allowed students to independently manage every aspect of their project activities, from the choice of research methods to how to disseminate the results. On the other hand, the teachers are also involved in an intensive community experience that allows them to learn not only from their own students, but also from the local community and from their fellow teaching peers involved in the project.  

 

Involving communities and policy makers

Ultimately, this takes the form of a collective civic adventure that improves the capacity to form effective social bonds and horizontal ties among the different stakeholders, actors of the local communities. In fact, detailed Open Data on specific public projects has enable new forms of analysis and storytelling focused on real cases developed in the students’ neighborhoods. This, in turn, has the key goal of involving the policymakers in a shared, participatory learning process, to improve both policy accountability and the capacity to respond to local needs.

 

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Finally, ASOC’s key element is that the pedagogical methodology we have developed can be used as a learning pathway that can be adapted to different realities (e.g. different policy domains, from national to local, in different sectors) using different types of open data with comparable level of detail and granularity (e.g. detailed local budget data, performance data, research data, or any other type of data).

If you are interested in learning more from ASOC’s experience, you can read a case study which includes the results of the 2014-2015 edition on Ciociola, C., & Reggi, L. (2015). A Scuola di OpenCoesione: From Open Data to Civic Engagement. In J. Atenas & L. Havemann (Eds.), Open Data As Open Educational Resources: Case Studies of Emerging Practice.

Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us as we are looking forward to provide support to  your institutions and communities to share what we have learned from this exciting professional journey!

Here you can watch the ASOC’s documentary video of the 2014-2015 edition https://vimeo.com/138955671

A Scuola di OpenCoesione 2014-2015: le voci dei protagonisti from OpenCoesione on Vimeo.

 

This is an adaptation from this post published in OpenEducation Europa. Chiara Ciociola is the main contributor, while I added a few phrases to her final version. Javiera Atenas very kindly helped us with the proof reading. I am the one who’s responsible for any inaccuracy! 🙂

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02/04/15 Open Policy # ,

(Open) Government <> (Open Government) Ecosystem

(Open) Government <> (Open Government) Ecosystem

Back in 2011, I wrote a post for this blog on the results of a workshop on the Open Government research agenda hosted by the Center for Technology in Government (CTG) at the University at Albany, State University of New York. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there. But somehow – albeit at a distance – it has shaped my interests so profoundly that now, after 4 years, I find myself working at CTG and dealing with the same interests and research topics.

Coincidentally, a couple of weeks ago I was asked to share my opinion on how to improve the Open Government ecosystem based on a paper that is reporting on the conclusions of the same, enlightening workshop.  Here are just my 2 cents on some of the fundamental ways in which governments should change.

img_28761. Focus on the long-term vision, not just on quick-wins. Changes in the open government ecosystem require long time. Government organizations are complex and removing the constraints to innovation requires special efforts.  The temptation is strong for leaders with short-term mandates to focus on the “easy part”, which generates immediate benefit from the point of view of political communication, but yields only short-term, unsustainable results (unfortunately, this is the history of most of the digital governance efforts in Italy).

2. But also commit to get things done. The vision itself is often not enough. The implementation of general principles and the execution of commitments are crucial.  What is the reason behind the decision of a Country to be part of the Open Government Partnership? Diplomatic relations, hype, emulation, or real willingness to change? Why President Obama announced a brand new USASpending.gov in 2014 and after almost a year the website has less functionalities than the older version?

3. Improve legibility and accountability, not just add a dataset to the open data portal.  Open data are sometimes seen as a panacea. While releasing government data in a useful way will enable new, unexpected uses in the open government ecosystem, open data are a means to an end, not an end in itself.  Open data don’t automatically imply transparency or accountability.  So a government cannot say “I am transparent, all my data are on line!”. Open data are a very powerful tool to improve transparency and accountability, for example, when data are “legible”, i.e. when it’s possible to track back the chain of responsibility behind that public action (a service, an infrastructure, a policy, etc.).  It’s a highly risky challenge that government organization should take.

4. Change the way to communicate.  Sometimes communication in public administrations is really old-fashioned.  Some public “communication officers”, for example, still debate in their conferences about “branding”, “products”, and “techniques to avoid difficult questions from the journalists” (true!!). This sounds like marketing principles during the ’80s!
An evolution is necessary from a unidirectional model (government > citizens) to a multi-directional dialogue. This enables new forms of collaboration between the citizens and the government.  For example, solving problems together and having the citizens telling this story would be a great form of communication.

5. Get involved with local communities. The paper refers to intentionality as one of the main factors shaping the Open Government Ecosystem. Just releasing open data is not enough. Governments should put in place proactive actions to stimulate the demand of their data. People and communities that are interested in a specific topic (e.g. NGOs, associations, unions…) probably ignore the very existence of that dataset that was just released. And, if they don’t, they probably don’t know what are the best way to analyze it, match it with other information, use it as a way to improve a given program or policy. So improving the “demand-side” of data publication (and related capabilities) is a brand new activity that the government should consider.  [In the photo: the 2015 Hackathon of the Italian Open Data community Spaghetti Open Data]

 

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6. (Not just IT) Change the organization.  Processing external feedback coming form the ecosystem is a totally new business for a public organization. This requires a transformation of processes and internal structure.
Some Open Government initiatives are just “special projects”. They have no “manager”, no “office”, no “department”. When nothing at the organizational level really changes, even processing the feedback can be difficult and can hardly be efficiently sent to the organizational units responsible for that particular program/policy.

7. Not just IT… but IT matters, a lot. So many Open Government websites and mobile apps fail because they are simply not usable, not “sexy”, not interesting. They are not fast enough, easy enough to scale up and involve a critical mass of interested users.  Also, the design of these tools has a lot to improve.  Many public consultations fail as well because their websites are poorly designed. Public engagement initiatives could find new opportunities for improvement at the intersection between art, civic design, technology and government action.

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05/03/15 Open Policy # , , , ,

A Question of Trust

A Question of Trust

This week Prof Maria Wimmer is visiting the Center for Technology in Government. Earlier today she presented an interesting theoretical trust model for e-participation.
Trust is indeed a central issue in participation in general, and e-participation in particular.

 

Please be vulnerable

Following the definition of trust of Mayer Davis Schoorman 1995, we as citizens are asked to “be vulnerable to the actions of another party based on the expectation that the other will perform a particular action”.  Why should we perceive that it is worth to take the risk of “being vulnerable”? What are the perceived benefits?

It’s useful to see the generation of trust as a self-reinforcing cycle. Trust can be seen as:

  • a condition for participation
  • a component of the process of participation
  • an outcome of participation

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If the outcome of participation is positive, then more and more people will be wanting to participate.  But having a positive outcome means, for example, that the feedbacks that government collects are used to actually change policy decisions. It’s more or less the opposite of what most governments are doing now, that is lunching fancy “on line consultation platforms” and then doing almost nothing with the feedback collected.

 

When e-participation (and trust) is up to “Funky Citizens”

The model from Maria Wimmer and her colleagues is primarily focused on a scenario in which citizens, groups and stakeholders interact directly with the government through IT tools.  She mentioned some examples such as the federal on line consultation platforms in Germany and the participatory budgeting tools in Cologne and Berlin. In all these cases, the only feedback “that counts” is the one submitted to the official platforms.  According to Prof Wimmer, other groups and citizens associations in Germany collect feedback on the same issues as well, but it not considered unless it is submitted through the official channels.

 

wimmer   2015-03-05 11.34.22

 

However, other cases from different countries show that e-participation can be effectively realized by civil society organizations combining off-line and on-line tools.  They can act as intermediaries in the whole e-participation process.  Just two examples:

  1. BaniPierduti in Romania is an amazing example of a team of citizens calling themselves “Funky Citizens” that developed a participatory budget platform and are now stimulating citizen participation from the bottom-up at train stations and on the streets.  All the feedback collected then is delivered to the Ministry of Finance thanks to an old law (never actually used until now!) that allow citizens or NGO to ask for public debate on the national budget.
  2. Monithon in Italy is focused on public spending. An informal group of citizens is collecting evidence on how EU-funded projects are progressing and what results are delivering. Some monithon local communities have started a permanent dialogue with local public administrations to improve and speed up the projects.

 

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Where does trust come from?

In both examples, direct contact with real people and in-person interaction is a central feature in order to engender trust.  It’s not hard to figure out that it’s easier to trust a “Funky Citizen” than a federal on line platform.  In addition, in the case of Monithon, the Monithon “brand” is also more trusted by the managing authorities of EU funding than other independent associations. This is because the initiative is connected with the governmental open data portal OpenCoesione, which provides the data on the projects to be monitored by the Monithon community and often participates in joint initiatives with it.

So the geography of e-participation is indeed very complicated.  Numerous and different actors are involved, different governance models are being experimented, including sometimes “meso-level” actions and programs trying to close a little bit the distance between the government and its stakeholders.
But the question still stands: is the government willing to “play the game of e-partecipation”? The results of e-participation will generate enough impact to reinforce the virtuous cycle that Prof Wimmer presented today?

 

 

The source of the figure is Scherer, S. and Wimmer, M.A. (2014). Trust in e-participation: literature review and emerging research needs. ICEGOV ’14 Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Theory and Practice of Electronic Governance.

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18/11/14 Civic Technology , Open Policy # , , , ,

Open Government Meets Journalism: Should A Public Administration Actively Involve Data Journalists?

Open Government Meets Journalism: Should A Public Administration Actively Involve Data Journalists?

According to a brutal definition, Data Journalism is “Journalism with Data“. Even though this data can come from a variety of sources, Open Government Data is seen as a gold mine. A data journalist could be interested, for example, in tracking crimes through local crime data or discovering specific episodes of corruption and misuse of public funding thanks to the data on public spending.

Now let’s see this from the perspective of the government. As more and more public sector organizations are venturing in the world of Open Government, the actual (re)use of their own Open Data is a measure of success of their strategy.  And there is no doubt that Data Journalism is one of the best examples of re-use of Open government Data that can create public value.

It’s fascinating to see how many public administrations around the world are now aiming to actively involve data journalists in their Open Government programs.  From my experience, this collaboration has taken three different forms so far:

  1. [SOFT] The staff of an Open Government program participates in “data journalism hackathons” or other events organized by journalists. The government employees offer their knowledge about the data and the data journalists find a story worth telling.
    This is what happened, for example, during the hackathon of the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy. Representatives of some Italian Ministries first presented their data to the journalists and then stayed all day to answer their questions and work with them.
  2. [MEDIUM] The government offers “training sessions” to journalists. Sometimes the data are difficult to understand because a specific jargon is used or the policy is so complex that at least a basic knowledge of some technical aspects is essential. The events are held on the government premises and are aimed at providing the journalists with the “right tools” to analyze the data (how to create a map or an interactive graph) and to interpret it.
    For example, the European Commission recently organized a “school” for journalists focused on EU funds.
  3. [HARD] The government hires data journalists. A data journalist working for the government can assume the role of communication officer and create visualizations and articles based on the government’s communication strategy. This is the case of the French portal Gouvernement.fr that recently added an “infographics” section (“les infographies et videos”) and is now looking for data journalists to create eye-catchy visualizations and content.
    But journalists can also have different roles, especially when working for specific Open Government initiatives. For example, a data journalist is part of the team of OpenCoesione School, a special project that involves high school students in the development of an investigation on the use of public funding through open data.

 

In the last few days I noticed a couple of interesting tweets on this.

An initial reaction to the “Medium scenario” (government training journalists) takes into consideration the principle of independence. In a tweet, the civil servant and public policy expert Tito Bianchi said:

However, an evidence-based debate in the press is possible only if the data are not misinterpreted, and working with the sources of information is a key part of the game. In addition, journalists may have limited quantitative skills to analyze the data or limited knowledge of the technicalities of a specific public policy.  

As for the “Hard scenario” (government hiring journalists), the experienced data journalists Nicolas Kayser-Bril commented on the French case with these words:

Nonetheless, he added that this could be an option if the agencies that are hiring are “independent, state-financed authorities that can scrutinize gov’t action, such as ombudsman, transparency authorities, courts of auditors”.

 

Do you think that a public agency should proactively involve data journalists? In which forms? Are there some “special cases”?
Under what conditions should a journalist accept to collaborate with an Open Government program?

 

 

Photo by Ahmad Hammoud

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12/11/14 Open Policy # , ,

A (long) list of the risks of Open Government

A (long) list of the risks of Open Government

Open Knowledge has recently published its Report on the Open Knowledge Festival 2014 in Berlin.  One of the most interesting workshops was called “Can Open Data Go Wrong“, “a safe and private conversation space for all those who wish to share their experiences of open data snafus, ranging from hilarious to perilous, with the goal of transparently learning from our failures”. You can find the Etherpad of the session and the podcast including an interview with the organizers Mushon Zer-Aviv and Tin Geber.

Here I would like to start to write down a list of potential risks of Open Government and citizen participation. I know it’s a long list, but I will start from some basic items from a discussion we had yesterday in the “Government Information Strategy and Management” class at the Rockefeller College, State University of New York.


From the point of view of a senator of a OECD Country:

  • Media are more interested in my personal expenses than in tracking the real use and impact of public money
  • Trust in government decreases at a point that Democracy fails
  • Only the “usual suspects” participate in the consultation I promote
  • Very limited public value from OpenGov initiatives

From the point of view of the CIO of a public agency:

  • Open Data are misinterpreted
  • Infomediaries are not ready to understand my data and no “ecosystem” is created
  • Few people are (re)using my data
  • No “new Facebook” is created thanks to the last app contest I launched
  • I don’t have the money / tools / skills to process external input
  • Cases of real collaboration with citizens are very limited (other examples after Peer-to-Patent?)
  • I have no real collaboration with other agencies on data standards and interoperability, no data created “as ready to be published”
  • No money to spend on OpenGov

From the point of view of an Open Government advocate:

  • Some data are there, but are not really relevant. Transparency is only on trivial issues
  • Open Data are available but data are poor quality, aggregated, difficult to understand
  • Open Data are altered, manipulated
  • Open data as a “gift” from the government, not a right of the citizen
  • We scraped Open Government Data and created interactive visualizations but nothing happened, because:
    • people don’t know that our tool is available
    • people are not interested
    • people cannot interpret the data
  • Open Government tools empower who is already empowered
  • Government is not listening, game over.

 

Any other points to add?

 

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Monithon
Monithon



A citizen monitoring marathon of the development projects financed by the European Union