IDP2009: Written Report of Day 2

This post is a slightly more structured version of the report I presented at the end of the second (and final) day, with the slides available here. It’s reconstructed from speaking notes and is presented to give virtual attendees a chance to sample my dubious words of wisdom. All comments are still welcome!

The second day of the conference was certainly as interesting as the first, although the approach was quite different in parts, drawing on the political process and political science rather than the more legal approach of Day One. The theme for this was set by Agustí Cerrillo, director of Law & Political Sciences at UOC, in his opening remarks, highlighting the importance of co-operation between the businesses active in the area, although this raises further questions about the appropriate balance between self-regulation and established legal mechanisms. Our main questions were ‘what will we do’ – what will the development of social networking enable us to do, and ‘how will we stay safe’ – i.e. how we and our services are protected, noting that cybersecurity in the UK and US are seen as part of a broader narrative of national security but also that political participation and similar uses require confidence in security, data protection and more if they are to be as transformative as promised.

“In a time of crisis, the international community turns its attention to the Information Society”. This remark, included in the Spanish government’s recent update to the Avanza plans discussed so clearly by Oscar Martinez in the second session of the day, is a really important one, and we can see the parallels for this in many jurisdictions, including those like Ireland where economic growth was said to have been built on ICTs. The difference, though, is that we are now more interested in public services and political context rather than in attracting large industries for hardware and software alone. The next Spanish presidency of the EU will take forward important topics: safety on the network, e-commerce, copyright protection as priorities. On the specific issue of safety, the role of ‘confidence, security and accessibility’ helps us to understand why it matters. However, it is important to situate this work in the context of recommendations of the Council of Europe, the OECD, the ITU and others. For our purposes, we should come away today knowing that there are interesting projects at a national level that can be a building block for international co-operation.

Oh what a difference an O makes – this was the key point I take away from Jose Manuel Alonso’s discussion of open government, as distinguished from e-government. His three pillars of citizen-centred services, designed with transparency and accountability, and the fostering of innovation, underline the role of open data in the broader governmental project. He was critical, too, of the focus on availability rather than use in some of the metrics and research available at present. Usefully, then, Nacho Alamillo’s discussion of security risks, and the need to foster a culture of security, made an important link between electronic administration and the need for protection and proper planning.

Whatever about the economic situation, there are certainly good examples of where trust in politicians is at a low level, with the example of the expenses of British members of parliament cited by Ismael Pena-Lopez in his opening remarks. He paid tribute to the Guardian’s tool that enabled users to assist in the massive project of reviewing the disclosed documents. Indeed, this entire affair is characterised by intruiging uses of both law and technology – FOI precipitated it, new media stirred it up, open data enhanced scrutiny and even the political reforms included the appointment of Tim Berners-Lee to reform UK government policy on data. So Jose Antonio Donaire’s comments on a ‘crisis of authority’ and the looming paradigm shift are helpful, as is Alberto Ortiz’s reminder that no political party can win an election on a promise to digitise the administration alone! We also heard, in the last session, a very helpful discussion of the need for political spaces 2.0 rather than mere politics 2.0, and I think that the presentation by Ricard Espelt showed how, even at a local level, the concerns of the citizen can be put at the centre of new models. His virtuous circle of complaints, resolutions and reforms is a remarkable case study and, along with other presentations today, serve as a timely reminder that consideration of social networking and its social context should not begin and end with the Obama campaign. We are reminded by Maarta Cantijoch’s research that those in the ‘critical’ category are attracted by unconventional or extra-representative forms of participation and how new technology can facilitate that.

We have taken care, though, not to fall into the trap of believing that either data or platforms can solve everything. There are, as ever, mixed consequences. Take for example the application that Jose Manuel Alonso discussed: Are You Safe Washington DC, using information from the DC data catalog to create an iPhone application that provides information on the crime stats where you stand. To me,this is a creative use of public data and an example of the right spirit, but what of the consequences of the on-site ‘blacklisting’ of a neighbourhood – or indeed the fact that the application itself depends on being permitted by Apple to be included in the iTunes App Store, with some controversial exclusions in recent weeks? Finally, we returned to the question of IP, in Graells’ discussion of Creative Commons licensing in Catalonia, which, as well as showing how to drive through a positive project, highlights the ongoing dialogue between creativity and bureaucracy, as he put it.

So what to we do next? Well first of all, we can take up Alonso’s invitation to send comments to the W3C’s Access to Government interest group. But we should also be cautious – to build on Ortiz’s discussion of the 19th-century ‘come back tomorrow’ satire, if we were to ‘come back next year’, would we see the same politicans using Web 2.0 like they promised? Espelt said that his project was in ‘constant beta’, which is a fair description of many of the projects discussed today. Indeed, if we were to look back to last year, or two years ago, the sites being discussed would have been different – a lot more Myspace and a lot less Twitter. Thinking of Twitter, then, the conversation through that platform has been very interesting, and deserves reading (in multiple languages).

To conclude: social networking forms a very important part of what we are doing right now, but some issues have been canvassed with earlier discussions on virtual identity (e.g. Sherry Turkle’s Life on the Screen, nearly 15 years ago!). Today’s proceedings have been characterised by the experience of learning what has been happening, not just by national governments but by sub-national entites and international collaboration. The legal discussions of Day 1 are useful here, particularly where we can understand the role of law as facilitator of innovation and protector of an open, activist culture. We must also consider whether existing laws are being enforced, and the social consequences of non-enforcement, particular in the area of data protection and privacy. I do hope that the conference has been as valuable to participants present and virtually present as it has been to me.

IDP2009: Political Participation

(This was a live report. It’s late, so I’ve tidied it a bit more than for other posts, but the same cautionary notes apply, please and thank you).

This session was very interesting, but unfortunately will be discussed in a fairly general way here: the last session suffers from my multitasking, preparing the slides for the end-of-day report in a race against time that I am bound to lose. However, there was excellent coverage by others, including a rapid series of Twitter updates (including from the panelists) – perhaps prompted by the status of some of them as prolific and informative users of the same services and other platforms. Again, idp2009 is the tag.

The theme, then, was political participation and social networking, and all three presenters expressed some optimism regarding the link between the two. Leading things off, Maarta Cantijoch of the Autonomous University of Barcelona referred to the distinction between the channels in which individuals choose to make their voices heard. One way of drawing that the established academic discussion of conventional (formal – voting in elections, activist in political party, active i.e. campaigning) and non-conventional participation (protest, boycott, etc). The latter is more recently referred to as extra-representative although that term provokes some controversy, and there are important questions about how much of it is in parallel to established citizens. There are three broad categories of citizens: disaffected, critical, institutionalised: illustrated in a useful diagram, but in short, the disaffected are dissatisfied and little involved, the critical are involved but dissatisfied (the key for unconventional participation!) and the institutionalised are both satisfied and involved. Web 2.0 can mean new exchanges, new exposure to information, more interactivity, more young people – this talk was particularly helpful in that it drew upon Spanish research into political activity, which shows that certain uses of the Internet can promote participation in non-conventional ways, meaning the distance between the individual and the institutional sphere is somewhat different.

Jose Antonio Donaire is a politician in the Catalan parliament, but has a particular interest in new forms of politics. He is intrigued by how it is becoming possible to hold different opinions on different subjects rather than the more simplified ideological line of a group that has characterised the status quo. However, there is more to it than that, with a series of options including the more limited politics 2.0 where you see encouraging developments such as transparency and interaction, but also possibly limited to established politicians using new tools with existing political language. Through intermediate stages like media politics 2.0 (including such projects as the use of wikis for drafting) and politicised media, the clearest paradigm shift would be political spaces 2.0, with shifting concepts of the party and with the construction of a radically decentralised political space in and around platforms such as social networks.

Ricard Espelt discussed what he suggested some saw as a ‘Very Peculiar Project’, that of the use of technology in the town of Copons – Copons 2.0. Through communication, discussion and interaction, specific local problems are solved (including very ‘small’ ones), where problems are built on in to possible solutions. It’s in parallel to traditional administration but causes us to think about the purpose of politics. His visually arresting presentation can be reconstructed here . The purpose is to use social networking sites (generally open, inexpensive tools and ‘free’ (in both senses) where possible) – an the successes have been quite remarkable, especially from the point of view of ensuring accountability on the part of political representatives.

IDP2009: A Safe Internet

Liveblog! You know the drill by now. Take my summaries with a pinch of salt, and don’t attribute the summary here to the original speakers as direct quotes, por favor.

Moderator Agustí Cerrillo, director of Law & Political Sciences at UOC, introduces this session on policies for a safe Internet. We have seen, across this conference, that some of the risks associated with social networking cannot be tackled by the law alone – other mechanisms must be resorted to. Co-operation between companies is an increasingly important factor, especially when there is tacit recognition of such by international authorities. Self-regulation of social network safety is the issue that we hope to be informed about over the course of this session, with speakers considering the various policies from the vantage point of their current positions.

Oscar Martinez – Information Society Services, Ministry of Industry, Spain – is new to his current position, but has a lot of experience in these policy areas. There is a division within his department between legal and policy development. The work in both areas is very influenced by developments within the European Union, but also the recommendations of relevant international organisations such as the OECD. In policy terms, there have been two ‘Avanza‘ plans adopted (executive summary in English), dealing with issues like online education, e-health (interoperability being a particular issue) – this builds trust in the network as important public services are rendered through Internet. DNA, electronic billing and more represent emerging challenges. The 2007 law on citizen access to services on the web is important – but there is no ‘punishment’ for a failure to provide services online. However, online services facilitate a ‘critical mass’. There is also an developing need to addressing the needs of SMEs. The next Spanish presidency of the EU will take forward: safety on the network, e-commerce, copyright protection as priorities. As Spain moves from plan 1 to plan 2, the development of the ICT industries is very important.

There is a common theme that it is important to reassure users regarding security and safety. “Confidence, security and accessibility” with a budget of €11m is one of the five core goals, intending to generate greater confidence in ICTs through public policy. This includes services and technologies to foster trust as well as guidance, education and the protection of children. However, it is important to situate this work in the context of recommendations of the Council of Europe, the OECD, the ITU and others, who have published guidelines on different aspects of safety – in terms of national security and critical infrastructure as well as data protection, spam, malware and so on.

Nacho Alamillo (INTECO page) is currently a lawyer with ‘ASTREA: La Infopista Jurídica’ and has involvements as an expert and/or consultation in Catalan, Spanish and European projects and working groups on security issues, particularly electronic signatures. The topic of his talk is the information security planning of Catalonia, but extracting some points of general interest from a close consideration of such.

SMEs not aware of the dangers unless actually attacked – and they can be turned into the instrument for other attacks without their knowledge. INTECO research shows 18% have written documentation on security – we can see that the security risk is real. Anti-virus software is poorly updated and has a limited role. The European legislative instruments have attempted to foster a culture of safety, in three strands: privacy, security, electronic administration. Given that Catalonia is deploying electronic government services, there is a need to ensure protection of various sorts – for the system as well as for the data. Private sector plays a role, there is alignment with various levels of government, and regions need to collaborate.

There is quite some focus right now on the protection of critical infrastructure. Electronic administration is itself a critical infrastructure – and that means that protecting it should and will not be entirely in the hands of industry. The Catalan administration, like others, will bring together experts in policing issues and fight all forms of cyber crime; also an ‘electronic evidence laboratory’ in the Catalan cases. Safety has multiple target audiences and the plan must recognise this.

There was a brief Q&A session at the end of this session, for which I point you to Ismael’s summary.

IDP2009: Access to Public Information

You are still warned: this is a liveblog, my impressions, not direct quotes, and presentations with excellent slides like these can be difficult to capture in full. Also using simultaneous translation for all speakers this time. Other summaries are collected at the idp2009 tag.

The first panel of the day is on the topic of ‘access to public information and social networking sites’, moderated by one of the chief organisers of the conference (and energetic liveblogger) Ismael Peña-López. In his opening remarks, he uses the very recent example of the Guardian’s project on MP expenses, with many users contributing to a valuable resource by viewing PDFs and highlighting important document, reproducing significant elements in plain text, etc. This is an illustration of how the important function of monitoring the democratic process is facilitated by low cost and high technology: the Internet allows us to acquire, transfer, discuss and use information. The link with social networking is to think about how we can use our new tools as part of the building of a better democratic culture.

The first speaker is José Manuel Alonso of both the CTIC Foundation and the WWW Consortium (W3C). You can read Alonso’s slides here (English), and I recommend that you do – they are full of useful links and references. In his introductory remarks, he refers to the ‘Government data and the invisible hand’ report, which suggests that Government ‘portals’ should disappear (being replaced by various forms of open data) – but Alonso doesn’t think this is going to happen immediately. He reviewed the experience with one-stop-shop portals to date, arguing that few use it with many other being a part the ‘Wikipedia effect’, especially in the US, of searching and going for a highly-placed link. The shift that is needed is from data ownership to data stewardship. On the common objection that this undermines financial models, there are examples of new approaches – the Austrian Mapping Agency made a dramatic reduction in its prices (97% reduction), meaning an increase of 7000% in downloads (Ordinance Survey please take note!). If you want to share/reuse data, you must (after Jeni Tennison) identify it, present it in a way that can be used, and then expose it to the world.

Some excellent examples are presented, including the way in which data is made available in a ‘data catalog‘(ue) by the city government in Washington DC, which is then reused (e.g. mapping at and an iPhone safety application!) (the excerpts and screenshots are all in the slides, linked above). The same developers have worked on the new service of the US federal government, which is one of the ‘jewel in the crown’ thus far, though with some limitations. We also get a sneak preview of Mapumental (see this blog post for more), which uses public data to set out public transport time and average house prices – this is rather exciting. Ultimately we should hope to reach a ‘linked data cloud’, which there are good examples of so far, where you link data sets to other data sets.

He invites conference participants to send comments to the W3C’s Access to Government interest group, with further information available here. In that vein, he also draws our attention to the drafting of a declaration on Public Services 2.0, with information available here. These are both interesting projects, particularly in the light of a useful comment made by Alonso in his closing remarks about the need to collaborate and share across national borders as well as technological ones.

Alberto Ortiz (described by the moderator as the author of the best blog in Spain on e-government) also holds a non-partisan political appointment in relation to public data and citizen engagement in the Basque region, giving him a useful perspective on the challenges ahead. His cheeky subtitle on his opening slide is ‘yes, we want’. The challenge, if we look at 2033 (chosen for the resonance with Mariono José de Larra’s 1833 satirical article ‘Vuelva usted mañana’), is to end the ‘come back tomorrow’ phenomenon of public services. So what is the model that we are following to try and get there? The first four phases were information, one-way interaction, two-way interaction, transactions – the fifth is or will be personalisation. He presents some data on the availability of eGovernment services across Europe, ranging (on one analysis) from 100% to less than 20% availability, which does not match advances in technology or government more generally (the limitation is that most research is on availability rather than use or value). We have a show of hands on online tax returns, which shows again that the audience is a little ahead of the curve. Yet of course, no political party can win an election on a promise to digitise the administration.

There are three pillars of open government: citizen-centred services, designed with transparency and accountability, and the fostering of innovation. He discusses the differences between mere eGovernment and open government – what a difference an O makes! Open data government, then, is a specific part of OG: it’s a prerequisite of it and a basic building block for empowering citizens. He refers back to the DC and US federal examples discussed by Alonso. Another case is how the ministry for industry in Spain enables the use of information on the cost of fuel; a user thought the interface was very clunky (despite the good data) and designed a better one (here. I also liked the discussion of the peer to patent community patent review project.

Finally, Jordi Graells, who is the deputy director of content and innovation in the Catalan Citizen Service Office (and blogger), considers how the reuse of public information can change the workings of the administration. The hope is to change how we ‘add value’ – but organisations need to change, as is argued by Gary Hamel. Decisions are better if they do not depend on one person, and collective intelligence supports complex needs. There are, however, both stimuli and barriers to innovation. I was also glad to hear Graells’ discussion of Creative Commons licensing in this context (see also the recent UK decision on the licensing of public sector information). In Catalonia, it was mentioned at an early stage in official documents that CC licenses would be used: the first was a publication on the system of jails in June 2007! There remains a fight between creativity and bureaucracy in some contexts … and in many contexts, legislation prevents information being made available in an open fashion. Databases are an interesting case, because of sui generis database rights, although CC 3.0 waives that right. The current state of CC in Catalonia encompasses a wide range of documents as well as audiovisual materials. There is an ongoing need, though, to have people within administrations using a spirit of openness and cooperation with citizens and of course with each other.

In the question and answer session, we heard (from the floor and the panel):
– some scepticism about official government blogging and how ‘real’ it would be
– the ‘genetic’ desire for control, especially in public administrations, and how to challenge it
Downing Street’s integration of various social media systems – why not elsewhere?
– the importance of small, targeted interventions that show how a new system works and makes others jealous!
– the appointment of Tim Berners-Lee to work on these issues in the UK
– possible objections from citizens on the grounds that the job of administration is to administer, and that money is wasted on access to data or ‘convenient’ services that few want
– will we have another divide between those online with and online without expertise, to replace the digital divide problem?
– can politicians ever give up their own power?