Improving Participation in an Open Government Data Initiative?

Ensuring significant public participation is one of the important success factors for an open government data (OGD) initiative. Metcalfe’s law states that the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of users, therefore, the greater the number of users greater is the value. OGD is no different. The more people participate the more likely ideas/innovations will come to the forefront. In this article I try to ask these questions

– why people participate
– how to increase participation

in an OGD initiative with an aim to aid pracitioners create conditions for innovation OGD initiatives.

Of course, in most cases there aren’t direct benefits to participate in an OGD initiative which makes understanding this issue complex. However, similar domains do exist and their analysis can provide useful insights and lessons in understanding causes of participation. In fact, political participation models are one of those potential domains. Based on general incentives model, civic voluntarism model and the mobilization model I will attempt to structure this issue and bring to light key questions practitioners & policy makers must ask themselves and prepare for in order to understand and enhance public participation in OGD initiatives.

I took the approach of the civic voluntarism model to understand open government participation. Rather than looking at why people participate I (analysed) why won’t people participate and came up with three major reasons, 1) they aren’t aware of the initiative because of being outside the initiative’s information network, 2) they won’t due to lack of psychological engagement with the initiative and 3) they can’t owing to lack of resources and external stimuli. All these factors can contribute in one way or the other towards non-participation in an open government data initiative. It is important for government officials, bureaucracy, and OGD practitioners to understand these factors and identify steps to overcome them.

Creating awareness  by spreading the word about the initiative is a crucial step that determines the extent of participation. Awareness may be increased by the intelligent use of social media and promoting dialogue & information sharing through offline channels. Clear communication of the initiative’s aim and objectives will also improve the psychological engagement of the participants thereby leading to increase in participation. Taking steps for capacity building of the intended participants and ensuring an easy & less time consuming participation process is also an important factor that might improve participation.

Below is a table of the analysis summarising the reasons why people don’t participate and what can be done to improve participation.

The useful aspect of this analysis is that it can be extended to other “open call” or non-monetary compensation based participation models. Hope similar analysis see light of the day. I will like to encourage OGD practitioners to share their experiences and opinion on participation in an OGD initiative. A few question to get the ball rolling:

1. What steps can be taken to improve participation in an OGD initiative?
2. Is there a specific target group which is most active in OGD Initiatives? What are their characteristics? (eg – age group, education, interest, geographical location, political situation in the country etc.)
3. Is generating maximum participation always better?
4. Are there any other domains, eg – crowdsourcing, open source software etc, from which you have learnt lessons for implementation in an OGD initiative?

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About Ankit Sharma

Born in Kashmir, Alumni of London School of Economics, Currently working for the Royal Bank of Scotland, Living in London with absolute passion and hope in the user of Information Technology to solve social problems.
This entry was posted in OGD Participation, Open Government Data and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Improving Participation in an Open Government Data Initiative?

  1. Tim Davies says:

    Hello Ankit,

    Just discovered your blog through your post on the open-government list. Great posts.

    A few quick thoughts on your questions:

    I think barriers (1) and (3) you mention also need a response concerning the usability and framing of open data. Even if people are made aware of open data, they often end up on ‘data portals’ which have taken their inspiration from software archives used in the open source world – and which have not been designed around the non-techie user. More work on ensuring the technical infrastructure of OGD welcomes participation is, I think, important.

    In terms of your question (2), the evidence from a few surveys so far seems to show OGD is generally attracting a tech-savvy, younger, male demographic – it would be interesting to find initiatives where that is not the case and to ask how or why they’ve managed to attract a broader participation.

    In terms of other domains to look at – one place to look is the experience of ‘Local Information Systems’ (LIS) in the UK. These were established by about a third of local authorities with the goal of increasing local use of demographic and other datasets. The managers of LIS systems probably have a lot to share about the processes of getting people to engage with data, and the sorts of outreach and capacity building that might be required.

    • Ankit Sharma says:

      Thanks for the comments.

      I agree that the usability and framing of datasets is important. In fact, the aim should be to have the OGD data as (A)ccesible, (A)ccurate, and (A)nalysable as possible. The greater the extent of these three A’s the greater can be the potential participation.

      OGD is still in its infancy and I believe, nothing can be better if we can derive lessons from similar domains. Thanks for the example of LIS, I will check that out. At my end I have been looking into the domain of psychology to study theories on prosocial behaviour, helping behaviour, reciprocal altruism, social exchange to try and understand the underlying motives of why civil society & social activitists will help and contribute towards an OGD initiative. Expect a blog shortly about this.

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