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Civic Hackathons: New Terrain for Local Government-Citizen Interaction?


Abstract and Figures

As more and more governments share open data, tech developers respond by creating apps using these data to generate content or provide services that citizens may find useful. More recently, there is an increase in popularity of the civic hackathon. These time-limited events gather tech enthusiasts, government workers and interested citizens, in a collaborative environment to apply government open data in developing software applications that address issues of shared civic importance. Building on the Johnson and Robinson (2014) framework for understanding the civic hackathon phenomenon, Canadian municipal staff with civic hackathon experience were interviewed about their motivations for and benefits derived from participation in these events. Two broad themes emerged from these interviews. First, through the development of prototypical apps using municipal open data and other data sets, civic hackathons help put open data into public use. Second, civic hackathons provide government staff with valuable feedback about municipal open data sets informing and evolving future open data releases. This paper concludes with reflections for urban planners about how civic hackathons might be used in their practice and with recommendations for municipal staff considering using civic hackathons to add value to municipal open data.
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Urban Planning, 2016, Volume 1, Issue 2, Pages 65-74 65
Urban Planning (ISSN: 2183-7635)
2016, Volume 1, Issue 2, Pages 65-74
Doi: 10.17645/up.v1i2.627
Civic Hackathons: New Terrain for Local Government-Citizen Interaction?
Pamela J. Robinson 1,* and Peter A. Johnson 2
1 School of Urban and Regional Planning, Ryerson University, Toronto, M5B 2K3, Canada;
2 Department of Geography and Environmental Management, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, N2J 3G1, Canada;
* Corresponding author
Submitted: 16 March 2016 | Accepted: 8 June 2016 | Published: 21 June 2016
As more and more governments share open data, tech developers respond by creating apps using these data to gener-
ate content or provide services that citizens may find useful. More recently, there is an increase in popularity of the civ-
ic hackathon. These time-limited events gather tech enthusiasts, government workers and interested citizens, in a col-
laborative environment to apply government open data in developing software applications that address issues of
shared civic importance. Building on the Johnson and Robinson (2014) framework for understanding the civic hacka-
thon phenomenon, Canadian municipal staff with civic hackathon experience were interviewed about their motivations
for and benefits derived from participation in these events. Two broad themes emerged from these interviews. First,
through the development of prototypical apps using municipal open data and other data sets, civic hackathons help put
open data into public use. Second, civic hackathons provide government staff with valuable feedback about municipal
open data sets informing and evolving future open data releases. This paper concludes with reflections for urban plan-
ners about how civic hackathons might be used in their practice and with recommendations for municipal staff consid-
ering using civic hackathons to add value to municipal open data.
civic hackathon; civic technology; geospatial web; open data; open government; volunteered geographic information;
web 2.0
This article is part of the issue “Volunteered Geographic Information and the City, edited by Andrew Hudson-Smith
(University College London, UK), Choon-Piew Pow (National University of Singapore, Singapore), Jin-Kyu Jung (University of
Washington, USA) and Wen Lin (Newcastle University, UK).
© 2016 by the authors; licensee Cogitatio (Lisbon, Portugal). This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribu-
tion 4.0 International License (CC BY).
1. Introduction
For some, the term “civic hackathon” might conjure
concerns about computer savvy individuals with mali-
cious intent trying to disrupt power supplies or play
games with traffic signals. The reality is refreshingly dif-
ferent. In the new world of open government, civic
hackers use their coding skills to work with municipal
open data to program apps and find solutions that im-
prove ordinary people’s quality of life. From Mayor
Bloomberg’s 2011 “reinvent NYC” civic hackathon to
the City of Paris’ 2016 urban security focused event to
Toronto, Canada’s 2015 traffic jam event, local gov-
ernments worldwide are using civic hackathons to de-
ploy open data to fix their cities.
The ubiquity of the internet and internet-enabled
mobile devices in our everyday lives serves as the
foundation for this connection between civic hacka-
thons and open government efforts to make govern-
ments more accessible, accountable and transparent
(Brown, 2007; Chang & Kannan, 2008; Longo, 2013;
Yildiz, 2007). At its heart, the open government move-
ment seeks to redefine the relationship between gov-
ernments and citizens by, among other things, making
Urban Planning, 2016, Volume 1, Issue 2, Pages 65-74 66
information about government services, activities and
spending more available and understandable. One way
in which governments demonstrate their openness is
through the release of government data through open
data portals. Here, open data is generally understood
to be data “that can be freely used, shared and built-on
by anyone, anywhere, for any purpose” (Open
Knowledge Foundation, 2013).
But making data “open” is only the beginning of
making governments open. Governments can only be
considered truly open when their citizens have access
to the information they need to inform their under-
standing of government processes, policies and deci-
sions (Open Government Partnership, 2011). Open da-
ta is part of the information citizens need but it is not,
in and of itself, necessarily easy to understand, use, or
work with. When citizens begin to work with data to
answer questions, address concerns and to advocate
for change that open data becomes part of a participa-
tory open data process and it begins to actively serve
the open government movement.
This paper broadly considers how municipal gov-
ernment staff, including urban planners, might begin to
seize new opportunities that new forms of data, such
as open data, present. For example, what new interac-
tions and engagements with citizens can be facilitated
through the use of data? More specifically, this paper
focuses its attention on civic hackathonstime inten-
sive, civic-focused topic events convened to put data
sets, often municipal open data, into active use
through the creation of mobile device applications with
civic/community intentions. Building on the Johnson
and Robinson (2014) framework for evaluating the im-
pacts of civic hackathons, this paper asks the question:
do civic hackathons provide a new forum for local gov-
ernment-citizen interaction? Drawing from interviews
conducted with Canadian municipal staff who have di-
rect experience convening civic hackathons, the re-
search found civic hackathons connect government
and the citizen in two broad ways. First, through the
development of prototypical apps using municipal
open data and other data sets, civic hackathons help
put open data into public use. Second, at civic hacka-
thons with government staff present, the hackathon
participants act as sensors, by sharing and providing
feedback on data sets to the government data custodi-
ans. This paper presents these findings and concludes
with reflections on the importance for municipal staff
in general, and urban planners specifically, to consider
their role in the emergence of a participatory open da-
ta movement.
2. Literature Review
2.1. The Changing Nature of Open Data Provision:
Moving from Data Provision to Participatory Open Data
The provision of open data, that is, data collected by
government to support service provision and decision-
making, is rapidly becoming commonplace in many
municipal governments throughout North America and
Europe (Höchtl, Davies, Janssen, & Schieferdecker,
2014). Open data, typically provided in a raw format,
through a web interface, and with a permissive license
encouraging use, can consist of infrastructure data,
such as roads, buildings, land use, service provision
(garbage collection schedules, recreation programs),
and transparency or accountability data (council
minutes, expenditures, voting records).
Though this raw open data may be accessed direct-
ly by a citizen end user, there is frequently an infome-
diary role played by private sector companies, NGOs,
journalists, and even other government levels or juris-
dictions (Janssen & Zuiderwijk, 2014). These entities
take open data and use it to create products that may
have wider impact. For example, a private sector mo-
bile application developer may rely on access to munic-
ipal transit scheduling information, provided as open
data, to feed a mobile transit app accessed by citizens.
Another example is the use of water quality data to
feed a community group portal on local water man-
agement and drinking water safety issues. These ex-
amples represent outcomes of open data provision by
government, taking raw data, providing it to a select
group of tech-savvy users, who take this data, combine
it with other data sources, and make a product that has
impact with a specific community of users. However,
this one-way process of data provision by government
and access by infomediaries and/or citizens, can also
be a two-way form of input, contribution, clarification,
or editing, for example with citizens being asked to
provide requests and input to government via a 311
request application (Johnson & Sieber 2013; Offenhu-
ber, 2015). This move represents a culture shift from
government data as product to data as a starter for
conversation between government and citizen (Sieber
& Johnson, 2015). This shift is mirrored in the evolution
of the open data portal from simply a library or reposi-
tory of raw government datasets, towards a meeting
point where citizens may also access information pre-
pared by municipal staff through data analysis, and to
provide comment or input through a web form or
companion mobile application (Sieber & Johnson,
2015). For example, an open data portal may contain
both the raw dataset and a map-based viewer through
which citizens can filter, explore, download, and even
comment or edit specific pieces of municipal data
(Johnson, 2016a). In this way, a government open data
portal aims to diversify its user base to include a range
of users, all with an interest in accessing and exploiting
the civic potential of government data. These could in-
clude technically-savvy developers who want access to
raw data, community groups or not-for-profits that are
looking to support their community-support mandates
Urban Planning, 2016, Volume 1, Issue 2, Pages 65-74 67
with information about their specific populations, jour-
nalists looking to find facts to support their stories, and
also average citizens looking for specific answers or in-
formation. This change from data provision to en-
gagement through information sharing approach
shows a maturation and evolution of the role of open
data, opening the possibility of a more participatory
conversation with citizens (Janssen, Charalabidis, &
Zuiderwijk, 2012; Sieber & Johnson, 2015).
This evolution in open data provision provides an
opening for the citizen contribution of information, and
also shows government interest in supporting the use
of open data, either through their own activities as da-
ta analyst and service provider, or through specifically
encouraging and activating others to act as ‘infomedi-
aries’ (Janssen & Zuiderwijk, 2014). In both cases, this
more active role of government as open data users or
champions echoes Janssen et al’s (2012) comments
that open data must be used to be of value. One specif-
ic way that government encourages the use of open
data is through the hosting or sponsoring of hacka-
thons, developer contests, or codefestsall events de-
signed to bring together diverse teams of individuals to
work with municipal open data, often on a targeted is-
sue of civic interest, in pursuit of a variety of goals
networking, prize money, opportunity to vend a prod-
uct to government, or simply out of fun and enjoyment
(Johnson & Robinson, 2014).
2.2. What Is a Civic Hackathon?
Code for America, a leading organization in the civic
technology sector, defines civic hacking as people
working together quickly and creatively to make their
cities better for everyone (Code for America, 2013).
Code’s focus on the “civic” element of a hacking is key
herethat there is an assembly of people gathering to
focus their efforts on improving their community sets
civic hacking apart from app development with entre-
preneurial goals.
Johnson and Robinson (2014) offered the following
description of civic hackathon:
“The civic hackathon is a time-limited (typically
hours or days) event, launched at a specific venue,
where enthusiasts, government workers, interested
citizens, and members of the private sector meet in
a collaborative environment to access government
open data. The goal of a civic hackathon is to lever-
age government open data to develop software ap-
plications that address issues of shared civic im-
portance. Civic hackathons are often coupled with
prize money or other material rewards for partici-
pants, and typically involve the release or promo-
tion of new or potentially highly-valued govern-
ment data. Civic hackathons often present a specific
problem or theme (such as transit, or engagement),
to which the sponsoring government aims to direct
participant efforts toward the development of an
app serving some sort of public and/or market
need.” (Johnson & Robinson, 2014, pp. 350-251)
As civic hackathons have grown in popularity, the
community of practice has further refined what distin-
guishes an entrepreneurial app contest from a civic
hackathon (Baccarne et. al, 2015; Dawes, Vidiasova, &
Parkhimovich, 2016). The entrepreneurially-focused
app contest places greater emphasis on the end-
product (the app), claims of innovation, and market po-
tential of the app (Baccarne et. al, 2015). In contrast, at
a civic hackathon, the convenor or host is typically a
government department or public agency and the data
used are often government open data, (Harisson, Par-
do & Cook, 2012) with goals of the event reflecting a
public or civic need. As the frequency civic hackathons
being held increases, we are witnessing them as a new
venue for government and the public to interact. In this
regard many scholars and practitioners are asking: are
civic hackathons a new form of civic engagement?
2.3. Are Civic Hackathons a Form of Civic Engagement?
Zuckerman’s (2013) two axis framework (Figure 1) is
commonly used in discussions about how to evaluate
civic technology and its contribution to civic engage-
ment writ large (Sifry, 2015). On the x-axis, civic en-
gagement activities are considered for their meaning
ranging from symbolic events to ones with measurable
impacts. Johnson and Robinson (2014) flag the need to
differentiate the impacts of hackathons given that
some are high tech stunts with free pizza, beer and t-
shirts while others claim to offer a deep dive into im-
portant civic issues using municipal open data.
Figure 1. Zuckerman’s 2-D matrix for thinking about
civic engagement activities. Source: Zuckerman (2013).
On Zuckerman’s y-axis we see a transition of civic en-
gagement activities ranging from thin to thick. Building
on this framework, Leighninger (2015) offers that
“conventional” engagement includes the kinds of activ-
ities municipal governments commonly use to seek
public input into their processes like public meetings
and deputations to Council. Next he frames “thin” en-
Urban Planning, 2016, Volume 1, Issue 2, Pages 65-74 68
gagement as activities in which individuals participate
like voting and signing petitions. With new online ca-
pacity he adds tweeting, a Facebook “like”, map con-
tributions, and online feedback on government pro-
jects to the “thin” list. “Thick” engagement “enables
large numbers of people, working in small groups, to
learn, decide, and act together” (Leighninger, 2015, p.
190). Using this taxonomy, civic hackathons share the
characteristics of “thick” engagement, yet despite this,
many questions can be raised about the fit between
civic hackathon goals and public need, the cross-
section of society present at these events, and the
overall impact of the civic hackathon, particularly as an
event that is often run ‘outside’ of formal decision-
making channels (Sieber, Robinson, Johnson, & Cor-
bett, forthcoming).
This tension between “thick” and “thin” forms of
engagement makes framing the civic hackathon wholly
as a civic engagement exercise a challenge. As with
Leighninger (2015), and Johnson, Corbett, Gore, Robin-
son, Allen, & Sieber, (2015), questions of value exist
when assessing the outcomes of largely digital, selec-
tive engagement exercises. To develop a better under-
standing of where civic hackathons fit as some combi-
nation of outreach, service provision, extension of
open data platforms, training, or even as civic engage-
ment, we use interviews with municipal staff responsi-
ble for convening civic hackathons. Their perspective
on the civic hackathon as potential engagement is criti-
cal for uncovering the motivations for launching a
hackathon and also the perceived benefits derived
from these activities. Despite rhetoric that civic hacka-
thons have significant impacts, liberate data and offer
a new form of civic engagement, it is time to move
from speculation to gathering evidence.
3. Method
Given this project’s focus on how governments are
making use of open data, to assess the role of the civic
hackathon as civic engagement, we identified munici-
pal staff working in Canadian municipal governments
as research participants. Key informant interviews are
useful when trying to evaluate the outcomes of par-
ticular activities (USAID Center for Development Infor-
mation and Evaluation, 1996). For this project, key in-
formants were drawn from participants in a cross-
Canada open data research project, and included rep-
resentatives from many of the most developed munici-
pal open data programs in Canada, as well as relative
newcomers to open data provision. All key informants
were considered to be experts in the subject of civic
hackathons, having developed, planned, and/or hosted
a municipally-sponsored civic hackathon. This particu-
lar focus on municipal staff was deliberate as this re-
search sought to evaluate the potential use of civic
hackathons from the perspective of municipal govern-
ment staff. This internal focus on open data program
evaluation is important, as building internal feedback
mechanisms has been identified as a central way in
which government can support the case for continued
delivery of open data (Johnson, 2016b). Similarly, cap-
turing staff perceptions of hackathons can provide not
only a frame for evaluating the event itself, but reveal
the underlying motivations and goals that drive gov-
ernment-citizen connections.
In total, six key informants were interviewed, rep-
resenting the municipalities of Toronto, Ottawa, Ed-
monton and the Edmonton Public Library, and Kitche-
ner. The small number of staff interviewed signals that
civic hackathons are still not widely used by Canadian
municipal government staff and thus the potential pool
of interviewees was small.
Open-ended interviews were conducted, with the
interviewer allowing respondents to elaborate and go
into detail on a variety of aspects of hosting a civic
hackathon, including motivations and outcomes, but
also technical, procurement, and civic engagement is-
sues. Interviews were recorded, transcribed, and then
coded based on an open approach (Bain, 2003) which
facilitated comparison between interviews on key
themes. These interviews are used to define the key
outcomes of civic hackathons from the municipal staff
person's perspective.
4. Analyzing Civic Hackathons: Significant Outcomes
for Data Providers
Through our research with Canadian municipal gov-
ernments who have conducted civic hackathons, three
main themes emerged in response to questions about
motivations for holding and outcomes generated by
civic hackathons. These three themes are; civic hacka-
thons help to activate open data use, at the civic
hackathon municipal staff participation is critical to
help animate the municipal open data, and civic hacka-
thons form a useful method of direct feedback from
data users to government staff. We examine each of
these themes in turn, providing evidence from inter-
views and comparison with existing literature.
4.1. Civic Hackathons Help to Activate Open Data Use
There is a common perception of the civic hackathon
as a forum for the creation of mobile device applica-
tions with commercialization potential from govern-
ment open data (Longo, 2013). In contrast, the local
government staff interviewed for this research relayed
that in the beginning, the “civic hackathon” was first
conceived of as a way to help municipal governments
to get their newly released open data into use by get-
ting it out of the portal and into the community. The
interviewee from Toronto shared “in early days people
were asking questions like: where do I find the data?”.
Urban Planning, 2016, Volume 1, Issue 2, Pages 65-74 69
This comment shows that local government staff were
using civic hackathons for two purposesfirst to draw
attention to the data sets themselves and second to
help create awareness about where and how to find
data. Kitchener staff had a similar experience, with ear-
ly efforts focussed on getting data into the portal, rais-
ing public awareness about the data’s existence, with
hackathons being identified as a way to accomplish this
goal. Similarly, in Ottawa, municipal staff showed lead-
ership by connecting the need to release open data
with additional efforts to get people to actually use it.
By hosting or supporting civic hackathons, munici-
pal government staff are acknowledging that making
data open, in and of itself, is only the first step in a
broader program of supporting open data use. This
demonstrates a desire on the part of government em-
ployees to move quickly beyond what Sieber and John-
son (2015) termed the ‘data over the wall’ model of
open data provision, where data is ‘dumped’ in a por-
tal, towards a more activist role of government as a
supporter and even convenor of civic engagement ac-
tivities related to open data use. We also see parallels
with research on the deployment of technology tools,
such as geospatial mapping, for civic engagement pur-
poses. Sieber et al (forthcoming) signal in their work
that when tech staff are asked about the potential for
online tools to improve discussions between local gov-
ernments and their citizens, they have an “if you build
it they will come” mentality meaning that developers
sometimes believe that great online, interactive tools,
including open data portals, will draw users by their
very presence. Yet research tells us otherwise, as many
tools developed to support engagement become lightly
or rarely used, and also inflict a range of structuring is-
sues on the process of engagement (Johnson et al.,
2015). It is clear from these experiences that the provi-
sion of open data and data management tools are only
one step in broader engagement through data sharing,
and simple provision does not relate to use or to any
guaranteed desirable outcome.
4.2. Municipal Data Animation Efforts Benefit from
Having Government Staff Present
The second common theme that emerged across the
interviews is that staff realized, as their experience
with civic hackathons deepened, that if municipal open
data was going to be used in a civic hackathon, then it
was important and advantageous for municipal staff to
be involved with and present at the event(s) when the
data was being used. In these events, staff responsible
for a variety of roles within the local government were
needed to provide support to hackathon participants.
Data savvy staff are needed to “speak to the data” (City
of Kitchener interviewee 1) regarding the technical
characteristics, such as the structure, nature, limita-
tions, and format of the data set and other data ele-
ments. The City of Toronto interviewee shared an ex-
perience from a civic hackathon at which participants
were in need of a particular data set that wasn’t avail-
able in the portal. The City of Toronto staff were able
to quickly locate the data in spreadsheet format and
share it with the participants. Without the staff present
to respond quickly, the event would have suffered,
with participants becoming stuck. In a different situa-
tion, participants encountered a technical problem
with a data file. The City staff at the hackathon were
able to call another staff person at home and solve the
problem quickly, which is important in a time limited
event like a civic hackathon. By having technical data
staff present “it really enables the hack to go on” (City
of Toronto interviewee), providing key assistance to
hackathon participants and allowing data custodians
within government to use their expertise to support
the broader goals of open data, moving simple provi-
sion to actual use.
The interview respondents from Toronto, Edmon-
ton and Kitchener consistently noted that civic hacka-
thons helped municipal staff better understand the
open data needs of their residents. Hackathons, ac-
cording to the Toronto respondent are a space for staff
to advocate for data use and to draw attention to the
data but they have more potential to engage more
municipal staff in addition to the municipal open data
teams. Subject area staff (e.g. urban planners, munici-
pal transportation engineers) are also needed at hacka-
thons to help participants understand the context of
the open data: “At the hackathon events you want the
people that know the data but also it would be helpful
to have the staff who work with data and practice....So
I some degree, help them navigate the website
(open data portal). But if they're really looking for nitty
gritty, then it's really helpful to have someone from the
division there” (City of Toronto interviewee). In Ed-
monton, public library staff realized there was a reso-
nance between the “open data movement” and the
mission of their public library to “make information
openly available to the public” (Edmonton interviewee
1). By having library staff attend, Edmonton forged
connections between the open data team and the li-
brary staff. Despite the overall strength of this finding,
as reported by our sample, it is important to remember
that this research did not query the perspectives of
hackathon participants about the presence of munici-
pal staff. This issue will be addressed in the conclusion
in a framing of future research needs.
4.3. Civic Hackathons Provide Important Feedback to
Local Governments about their Open Data
Interviewees relayed that as their experiences with civ-
ic hackathons deepened their understanding of how to
work with and improve their current provision of mu-
nicipal open data expanded. For Edmonton, Toronto
Urban Planning, 2016, Volume 1, Issue 2, Pages 65-74 70
and Ottawa, the first hackathons with municipal staff in
attendance were different in terms of expectations and
structure than the ones that followed. As the Toronto
interviewee shared “in the early days we didn't really
have much data at all. So we weren't really able to help
them [hackathon participants] really do anything”.
While in the case of early events, local governments
may have imagined civic hackathons as a way of publi-
cizing their open data portals, helping the public learn
more about open data and its potential, by hosting or
participating in civic hackathons, municipal staff are
engaged in a more reciprocal working relationship with
data users. According to the City of Toronto interview-
ee: “all of that kind of learning…I don't believe you get
it unless you engage and participate”. Now that more
municipal open data is available and more feedback
from data users is being received through hackathon
events, municipal staff are learning too about how
their open data might better achieve its civic potential.
Through participating in civic hackathon events,
open data staff reported receiving valuable feedback
about the structure and accessibility of their open data
sets. In some cases (e.g. Toronto), at a civic hackathon,
participant questions signalled to staff that some exist-
ing data sets were hard to find. During one event, par-
ticipants wanted access to Council minutes and agen-
das. In Toronto these data are available through the
City of Toronto Meeting Management Information Sys-
tem (City of Toronto, n.d.) but staff learned, first hand,
that the public was not intuitively able to find this in-
formation set and the municipal staff present were
able to help connect the need with the information
quickly. In another Toronto civic hackathon a partici-
pant, who was a coder with extensive technical exper-
tise, questioned open data staff on how and why par-
ticular data files were structured and bundled a
particular way. His questions led staff to make changes
that resulted in open data files that were faster to
download and easier to access on mobile devices.
These resident-staff interactions also help staff quickly
identify conflicts between data sets. The staff from
Kitchener also specifically discussed how beneficial this
kind of feedback on data structure and format was, al-
lowing them to make changes and to learn for future
data releases. Here having government staff present at
civic hackathons facilitated reiterative learning that in-
formed the early days of open data releases.
When City staff are able to participate directly in
civic hackathons they also learn more about what kinds
of data users want and need. Given that a ‘large’ open
data catalog may contain one hundred datasets, there
is an immense amount of data collected by govern-
ment that is not provided via an open data portal. Mu-
nicipal staff reported feeling the pressure of wanting to
get more data out but they were clear that their hope
is to get the data out that people actually needed and
wanted and they “don't want a fire hose where they
just put it (data) all up there”. But through participating
in civic hackathons, the municipal staff interviewed
here reported gaining valuable feedback about which
data sets are desired yet not yet shared on municipal
open data portals. This allows data users to request
priority data, giving municipal staff a specific reason to
approach data custodians internal to government, and
to work with those departments to make a given data
set open. The City of Toronto staff person specifically
noted “But we like evaluations. We like to see evidence
of people's reactions”. Similarly, the Kitchener staff al-
so reported benefits from the in-person discussions
about data: “We talked to different groups in terms of
what sort of things they would be interested in. And it's
like “what do you want?”, “What do you have?”” Well,
what do you want? We got a lot of stuff.” “Well, what
do you have?” (...) But then there's the odd ball things
that you don't even think about, and until you put it up
there, and people start asking questions and giving you
some feedback on what you've got, what’s missing.
You know, geez, if it only had this then we could, you
knowI got an idea but I need this other piece. It al-
lows us to tweak what (data) we're putting out.” And
the Edmonton staff members also reflected on receiv-
ing the same benefits: “we wanted people to give us a
sense of how we could move forward engaging the
open data movement in the community of people and
the city who are invested in it. And we got a lot of
feedback that helped give us that kind of direction”.
Here the face-to-face contact provides valuable feed-
back for City staff about how to prioritize future open
data releases.
This process of working directly with the public at
civic hackathons, outside of formal public meetings, is a
different point of connection for municipal government
staff. These changes require shifting mindsets about
what it means to share information rather than keep-
ing it from public access. In the words of one inter-
viewee: “Now I'm starting to get into it (open data) and
now it's like, well, let's see what we can put out there.
That's not easy to do when you've had twenty years
behind you of hoarding data”. Early participation in civ-
ic hackathons has lasting impacts on how government
staff conceived of their working relationships with the
“We're directed not to create, not get into the apps
contest or whatever, but be involved as part of our
crowd sourcing concept, which was accepted. In
other words, as we're doing this, let's go out and
ask the community what they need and not sort of
define it ourselves. So that's where actually going
and participating in the hacks, sort of, became our
methodology. And we learned quite quickly that
you know what, we're notwe wouldn't be really
good at creating these kinds of events because the
sort of ethos, the culture, if you like, is very differ-
Urban Planning, 2016, Volume 1, Issue 2, Pages 65-74 71
ent to, to what we are more accustomed to. So if
we were going to do a hack, likely, back then espe-
cially, right, likely we would have said, oh, it's got to
be on a Monday between 8:30 and 4:30. So we ob-
served that. And said, well, you know, this is amaz-
ing. And how are we contributing? How do they
seem to want us to contribute? It looked like more
or less as the people presenting some of the data,
that that's what they were asking us, where do I
find this?” (City of Toronto interviewee)
And civic hackathons have put different staff into direct
contact with the public. In the past, GIS and data staff
have been behind the scenes “serving the needs of the
Corporation” yet now, with civic hackathons, these
staff are in rooms with members of the public. This
change is welcome by staff and it is significant.
Another reciprocal benefit that staff report from
their engagement in civic hackathons is that staff per-
ceive them as events that help residents learn about
their community and how their local government func-
tions. One interviewee shared:
“You know, it's just a very different means of opera-
tion than traditionally what you get out of govern-
ment. And I've seen evidence of it being successful
with the community. And I found the community to
become more tolerant of our delays for whatever
reasons there are, they respect us/ because we're
there. If we were less inclined to participate and be
visible then I think you would see more blow back
and who knows what kind of even editorial you
might get in the blogs and the tweets/ and whatev-
er media coverage there is.” (City of Toronto inter-
The same participant also noted:
“And I'd argue too that it's a way of teachable mo-
ments. It's all part of civic engagement. It's getting
people to understand how the government works
and why it works. And does it work well for them?
And I mean, think of it, it's a two way street. We
could come back easily and talk about issues”.
5. Conclusions: Are Civic Hackathons a Gateway to
Broader Civic Engagement?
Ultimately, staff report that they perceive civic hacka-
thons to be a step in the direction toward new resi-
dent-government relationships. Civic hackathons have,
in one way, helped government staff see how keen res-
idents are to engage with open data beyond the hack
events themselves: “There's been a strong appetite for
people to just give them a time and a place and a rea-
son to come together, to see what each other's work-
ing on or interested or learn about new tools or new
data sets or meet people at the city and ask them
questions about the data. So it's more about setting
them up for work that happens outside of those
events” (interviewee). And in Edmonton, the library
staff interviewed reported that from their experience,
the civic hackathon “idea was civic engagement, just
putting people face to face and giving them the oppor-
tunity to work together”.
As open data communities mature we are seeing
the emergence of additional types of events at which
open data are used and explored. In Ottawa, communi-
ty members started an open data book club where
people meet monthly to discuss a data sethere the
focus is on the data and its use rather than on app de-
velopment. In Toronto there is an open data book club
and a weekly civic tech hack night which combines dis-
cussions about data sets with ongoing work on app de-
velopment. This range of activities at which municipal
open data is considered and sometimes used in app
development demonstrates that residents have an in-
terest in open data and its application beyond tool de-
velopment. And as these kinds of beyond-civic-
hackathon activities emerge, questions will arise for lo-
cal government staff. The City of Kitchener staff inter-
viewed shared “the people who did get engaged were
looking toward the next thing. So, you know, again,
how far do we (the City) take it with that? And at what
point does our role stop in that and does the communi-
ty take it on?”.
A municipal government bringing in outside actors,
in this case citizen hackers, to work on apps that have
civic benefit could be argued to be form of outsourcing
consistent with trends toward neoliberalization. John-
son and Robinson (2014) asked whether hackathons
were a form of backdoor procurement? In some ways,
a civic hackathon represents one step towards the im-
plementation of the neoliberal rhetoric of open gov-
ernmentwith its attendant challenges generated by
shift of power from centralized to decentralized (Bates,
2014). If the civic hackathon movement continues to
be popular, these concerns are important to track and
evaluate. However at this particular moment, civic
hackathons appear to be more valuable to local gov-
ernments as a tool for engagement than as a technique
for getting free or subsidized labour in the form of app
building. Furthermore, increasingly, civic hackathons
are being grouped with other activities like Open Data
Book Clubs and data sprints at which the focus of the
meetings is more about the discussion of the data and
its potential than on the production of the app itself.
These interviews conducted for this research begin
to shed light on the impacts of a relatively new phe-
nomenon for local governments: the civic hackathon.
These findings confirm that civic hackathons are differ-
ent from entrepreneurial app contests in that their
“value” and impact focuses more on sharing, animating
and generating feedback on civic open data sets than it
Urban Planning, 2016, Volume 1, Issue 2, Pages 65-74 72
does on producing a ready-to-use mobile device app.
These findings signal the importance of municipal open
data needing stewardship in the form of municipal staff
familiar with the data, their format and structure and
also municipal staff with knowledge and experience in
the areas of application related to the data. Through
participation in civic hackathon events, municipal staff
reported gaining receiving valuable feedback about
what kinds of data residents want, how well the data
sets are structured, and how these data sets might in-
form actions taken by residents. This feedback oppor-
tunity reinforces the importance of municipal staff
needing to participate at the events, acting as infome-
diaries that can facilitate the creation of information
from the raw open data (Janssen & Zuiderwijk, 2014).
These findings also help position civic hackathons as an
event that contributes to broader participatory open
data efforts and that also may serve as an entry point
for residents to participate in other civic engagement
When this research began, the distinction between
app contests and civic hackathons was less clear than it
is now, with questions arising about whether the
hackathon phenomenon was a trend that would taper
off. In 2016, governments worldwide continue to spon-
sor hackathons with a variety of goals including possi-
ble app development, and these findings signal that or-
ganizers might think beyond prizes, having robust
participation numbers and publicizing outcomes to
what the role of civic hackathons is in connecting the
public with civic open data. This research on civic
hackathons helps to demonstrate that there is civic and
local government value in having staff attend these
events, though one challenge that many local govern-
ments face with civic hackathons is that they often take
place outside of regular working hours for municipal
staff (e.g. on weekends and into the evening) but given
the learning and knowledge exchange between munic-
ipal staff and participants, there is an institutional ar-
gument to be made for having staff present. Civic
hackathon organizers should consider, from the outset,
what feedback mechanisms they can create to allow
the useful feedback provided at these events to shape
and influence municipal open data practice moving
forwardwho needs to be present and what kinds of
note taking, and post-event evaluations might be de-
veloped to gather this feedback in a way that is useful
and durable? And, given that civic hackathons appear
to lead to other open data events and engagement and
civic engagement more broadly, how can local gov-
ernments take full advantage of the civic engagement
potential of these events to harness that energy and
put it to future use?
Urban planners, as municipal staff, may also take
particular note of the civic engagement potential of civ-
ic hackathons. It is a “normal” part of their work for
municipal planners to be directly engaged with the
public. As professionals who direct and implement lo-
cal land development processes, urban planners are
commonly legislatively required to hold mandatory
public meetings. Yet civic hackathons are a markedly
different eventthere are no formal, local government
decisions taken, there are no proponents of a devel-
opment process. Civic hackathons are more informal
and collaborative than typical land use planning public
meetings. In civic hackathons there are myriad forms of
expertise with people working voluntarily and collabo-
ratively. Given the popularity of civic hackathons and
the findings presented here that signal their potential
to add a new dimension to the relationship between
residents and their local governments, municipal plan-
ners should become familiar with the civic hackathon
event and begin to consider what points of meaningful
contact there might be with urban planning practice.
In developing this project, the research team won-
dered whether civic hackathons would be a flash-in-
the-pan trendy event whose time would have come
and gone before the findings were shared. Instead the
interviews conducted here reveal that hackathons con-
tinue, at least in the short to medium term, to provide
a valuable forum for municipal staff and a broad diver-
sity of data users including citizens, private sector, non
profits, and journalists, to explore open data. Rather
than reliably producing civic-minded apps for mobile
devices, civic hackathons in their current form are use-
ful events in a participatory open data ecosystem and
they appear to add value to municipal open data
through taking this data and putting it into action with-
in a specific community of data users, closely working
with government representatives. In this way, the pro-
cess of a civic hackathon becomes much more im-
portant as outcome compared to a specific app that
could be developed. As a re-framing of government-
citizen relationships with open data access and use at
the center, a civic hackathon exists as a manifestation
of the potential for engagement.
Despite this potential, many critical questions for
future research emerge, most notably asking what are
the specific outcomes for civic hackathon participants?
What kinds of people participate or critically, do not par-
ticipate (e.g. age? gender? backgroundtechnology, ur-
banist?)? What motivates the participants to come
(e.g. fun? wanting to make a difference? entrepreneur-
ial aspirations? new form of volunteerism?)? What do
participants think about having local government staff
present and does this presence enhance or hinder in-
terest in participating? Do the participants share the
government staff’s enthusiasm for the new space that
hackathons create for citizen-government staff interac-
tion? And how do residents feel when their politicians
participate? One could imagine tension emerging if a
hackathon investigated topics such as council expendi-
tures or other potentially sensitive transparency data
with representatives of the government in question. As
Urban Planning, 2016, Volume 1, Issue 2, Pages 65-74 73
open data portals grow, the feedback loop between
hackathons and municipal open data efforts should be
further explored. How does government go about in-
corporating and acting on diverse feedback, and are
there specific obstacles that may be blocking the fur-
ther development of both open data and the civic
hackathon? And most critically, what is the long-term
future of the civic hackathon event? Is there a limited
appetite for this type of activity, and without evidence
of real engagement or changes driven through partici-
pation, is the likelihood of further investment from
governments destined to falter? Or, is as hinted by the
key informant interviews presented here, could a civic
hackathon a potential new conduit through which gov-
ernment and citizen can connect? Finally, is the hacka-
thon an entry point for disruptive action, such as a
launch pad for entrepreneurial activity that may ap-
propriate government roles to the private sector?
The interviews conducted from this modest sample
of Canadian local government staff form findings that
contribute to the nascent body of literature focused on
the civic impacts of hackathon events. Research that
builds up and broadens the focus on civic hackathons is
encouraged. A web search of “city hackathons” shows
upcoming events in cities like Amsterdam, San Diego,
and Dublin among many which signals the civic hacka-
thon, as an open data engagement event continues to
be popular. While there is more research attention de-
voted to the entrepreneurial app contests and their
impacts, this research shows there are marked differ-
ences in intent, structure, expectations and outcomes
between app contests and civic hackathons. Further-
more, as open government and open data movements
continue to build momentum, additional research is
needed with a civic or public focus because, as this pro-
ject demonstrates, the impacts and outcomes of civic
hackathons do appear to offer a new terrain for local
government-citizen interaction.
The authors would like to thank the participants for
sharing their experiences and the reviewers for their
valuable feedback. The research reported here is fund-
ed by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research
Council (Canada) and the authors are part of the ge- research team.
Conflict of Interests
The authors declare no conflict of interests.
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About the Authors
Pamela Robinson (MCIP RPP) is an associate professor in the School of Urban and Regional Planning,
Ryerson (Toronto, Canada). At Pamela’s research focuses on the use of open data and
civic technology to support open local government transformations. She is an editor of Urban Sus-
tainability: Reconnecting Space and Place (University of Toronto Press, 2013), Teaching as Scholar-
ship: Preparing Students for Professional Practice in Community Services (WLU Press, 2016) and a
columnist for Spacing magazine.
Peter Johnson (PhD) is an assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental
Management at the University of Waterloo. His research seeks to understand how governments, citi-
zens, and private companies share information through geospatial technology, including open data,
the geoweb, social media, mobile devices, and the process of crowdsourcing.
... In the case of open government, open data literacy has been the object of attention. Open data is part of the information that citizens need, but it is not, by itself, necessarily easy to understand, use, or work with (Robinson & Johnson, 2016). Van Veenstra et al. (2020, p. 11) affirm that "the use of public sector data analytics requires the development of organisational capabilities to ensure effective use, foster collaboration and scale up, as well as legal and ethical capabilities to carefully balance these concerns with goals, such as increased efficiency or operational effectiveness". ...
Open data has been conceptualised as a strategic form of public knowledge. Tightly connected with the developments in open government and open science, the main claim is that access to open data (OD) might be a catalyser of social innovation and citizen empowerment. Nevertheless, the so-called (open) data divide, as a problem connected to the situation of OD usage and engagement, is a concern. In this chapter, we introduce the OD usage trends, focusing on the role played by (open) data literacy amongst either users or producers: citizens, professionals, and researchers. Indeed, we attempted to cover the problem of OD through a holistic approach including two areas of research and practice: open government data (OGD) and open research data (ORD). After uncovering several factors blocking OD consumption, we point out that more OD is being published (albeit with low usage), and we overview the research on data literacy. While the intentions of stakeholders are driven by many motivations, the abilities that put them in the condition to enhance OD might require further attention. In the end, we focus on several lifelong learning activities supporting open data literacy, uncovering the challenges ahead to unleash the power of OD in society.
... In the case of open government, open data literacy has been the object of attention. Open data is part of the information that citizens need, but it is not, by itself, necessarily easy to understand, use, or work with (Robinson & Johnson, 2016). Van Veenstra et al. (2020, p. 11) affirm that "the use of public sector data analytics requires the development of organisational capabilities to ensure effective use, foster collaboration and scale up, as well as legal and ethical capabilities to carefully balance these concerns with goals, such as increased efficiency or operational effectiveness". ...
This chapter complements the introduction to the book “Data Cultures in Higher Education: Emerging Practices and the challenges ahead”. This chapter explores policy-making areas that impact higher education directly or indirectly. These areas are (a) transformation of higher education (from discourses of modernisation to the problem of managerialism, (b) open science and data connected to research practices and (c) the evolution of Artificial Intelligence (AI). In our view, the aforementioned areas support the initial theoretical assumption that data practices are based on several perspectives on how data are produced and used; hence, they encompass complexity. Moreover, this complexity sets the basis for different reactions from Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), which shape their situated institutional data cultures. Through the evidence of concrete evolution of policy-making around data in society and in education, our goal is to provide a frame to understand the relevance of the cases and proposals presented in each of the following chapters.
... In the case of open government, open data literacy has been the object of attention. Open data is part of the information that citizens need, but it is not, by itself, necessarily easy to understand, use, or work with (Robinson & Johnson, 2016). Van Veenstra et al. (2020, p. 11) affirm that "the use of public sector data analytics requires the development of organisational capabilities to ensure effective use, foster collaboration and scale up, as well as legal and ethical capabilities to carefully balance these concerns with goals, such as increased efficiency or operational effectiveness". ...
This chapter introduces the book “Data Cultures in Higher Education: Emerging Practices and the Challenges Ahead”. It is based on four sections that frame several chapters’ work and present it. In the first section, we briefly explain the problem of data and datafication in our contemporary society. To offer conceptual lenses, the idea of complexity is applied to the entropic and chaotic way with which datafication appears in several areas of higher education, triggering fragmented responses, ambiguity, and in the worst cases, harm. Hence, we offer the idea of higher education institutions’ data culture as potential apparatus to explore and understand the above-mentioned complexity. Data cultures characterise an institution and its tradition, people, narratives, and symbols around data and datafication. We purport here that awareness about their existence is crucial to engage in transformation to achieve fairness, equity, and even justice, beyond the subtle manipulation embedded in many of the assumptions behind data-intensive practices. Over these bases, we present the twelve central chapters composing this book, highlighting their perspectives and the way they contribute to study, act, and change data cultures. Finally, space is left to the book’s conclusions and the afterword by invited scholars as a point of arrival for the reader. Several threads conjoin in a web that will hopefully inspire future research and practice.
... In addition, prolific literature emphasizes the importance of mobilizing people to harness the digital technologies and data potential for solving societal problems (Browder et al., 2019;Robinson & Johnson, 2016), and cites hackathons as a commonly used case for such mobilization (e.g., Irani, 2015;Johnson & Robinson, 2014;Lifshitz-Assaf et al., 2021). ...
Full-text available
Open Social Innovation (OSI) involves the collaboration of multiple stakeholders to generate ideas, and develop and scale solutions to make progress on societal challenges. In an OSI project, stakeholders share data and information, utilize it to better understand a problem, and combine data with digital technologies to create digitally-enabled solutions. Consequently, data gover-nance is essential for orchestrating an OSI project to facilitate the coordination of innovation. Because OSI brings multiple stakeholders together, and each stakeholder participates voluntarily, data governance in OSI has a distributed nature. In this essay we put forward a framework consisting of three dimensions allowing an inquiry into the effectiveness of such distributed data governance: (1) openness (i.e., freely sharing data and information), (2) accountability (i.e., willingness to be held responsible and provide justifications for one's conduct) and (3) power (i.e., resourceful actors' ability to impact other stakeholder's actions). We apply this framework to reflect on the OSI project #WirVsVirus ("We versus virus" in English), to illustrate the challenges in organizing effective distributed data governance, and derive implications for research and practice.
... Les limites concernent ainsi principalement les potentielles transformations structurelles que pourraient contribuer à apporter les ECI comme le développement d'un prototype ; le développement d'une culture de l'innovation, la modification de la pédagogie d'une université, etc. La question du design de l'ECI pour répondre aux objectifs des organisateurs est donc une voie de recherche très importante 'Despite plethora of research and public attention, little is known about how to design a hackathon to achieve intended goals' (Pe-Than, Nolte, 2018, p. 2). Les manières de calibrer un ECI diffèrent totalement en fonction du ou des objectif(s) : favoriser l'engagement citoyen, développer de nouveaux projets, créer de la cohésion entre les membres d'une organisation, favoriser l'apprentissage, etc. Les études portant sur les conditions de réussite des ECI insistent principalement sur la nécessité de clarifier précisément l'objectif de l'ECI Lesage, Geoffroy, 2018) et sur l'acculturation nécessaire des parties prenantes aux logiques d'innovation, notamment l'organisation porteuse publique ou privée de la dynamique créée par l'ECI (prise de risque, capacité à faire des pas de côté…) (Allam-Firley, 2018 ;Robinson, Johnson, 2016 ;Lesage, Geoffroy, 2018). Les auteurs montrent effectivement l'importance de la volonté politique et l'engagement des décideurs publics ou privés selon le contexte empirique d'un ECI particulier de favoriser ou non une logique d'innovation. ...
Full-text available
La recherche sur les événements collaboratifs d’innovation, événements courts, intenses, festifs, visant à créer des solutions (Hackathon, Start-up Weekend...) est émergente. Un état des lieux montre des effets en matière de mobilisation, d’apprentissage, de créativité, etc. et des limites liées à l’aboutissement de projets d’innovation, dans différents contextes empiriques. Nous proposons une connexion entre ces événements et la création d’une dynamique d’entrepreneuriat territorial. Quels seraient les effets et limites spécifiques ? Nous explorons cette question à travers une étude longitudinale de cas unique : « Start-up de Territoire » animé à Lons-leSaunier par une Société Coopérative d’Intérêt Collectif, Clus’Ter Jura. Nous montrons le décalage entre l’objectif de création d’emplois affiché et les effets principaux d’ordres symboliques (visibilité, crédibilité) et pédagogiques et le potentiel en termes d’apprentissage et de transformation d’un ECI pour contribuer à créer une dynamique d’entrepreneuriat territorial.
... Participants, mostly computer programmers, seek to solve a problem. Robinson and Johnson (2016);Weinberger (2017) A hacker marathon, usually sponsored by a company or investor, in which computer experts aim to meet a certain technological challenge, such as the creation of software. ...
Purpose – The main purpose of this study is to analyze why Brazilian organizations hold Hackathons and to identify what happens to the winning products after the event. Theoretical Framework – The open innovation practices promoted by Brazilian companies known as Hackathons, have become popular since 2014. The study has contributed to advances in holding Hackathons in Brazil, contributing to the spread of open innovation in Brazilian companies. Design/Methodology/Approach – Exploratory and qualitative research was used a study based on in-depth interviews to achieve its objectives. Interviews were conducted with six companies that promoted Hackathon events, three consultancies who organize Hackathons and twenty individuals who have participated. Findings – It was found that the events brought benefits, such as improving the organization's image namely to the company itself and its stakeholders; supporting the development of an organizational culture focused on innovation and the retention of new creative employees. Research, Practical & Social Implications – Participants identified networking with other companies and other Hackathon agents as advantages, along with an exchange of skills and the possibility of contributing to social causes. Originality/Value – It was identified, in the study, that a hackathon is used by private companies to retain specialist labor, where the company sees it as an opportunity to find out, in practice, the behavior and knowledge of potential employees. A hackathon can also be held so that companies can test and validate their products or understand their problems in more detail, as many external participants may be or have been clients of the company promoting the event. Keywords – innovation, open innovation, hackathon.
The benefits that open government data (OGD) may hold for society are plentiful, including increased government transparency and economic growth. To realize these benefits, users must access and transform OGD to create value. Yet, the increasingly widespread provision of OGD has not necessarily spurred abundant uses nor has it attracted a multitude of users. To support the expansion of uses and users, research about OGD has turned to examination of data provision and users’ intentions to engage with OGD. A complementary approach to characterize actual demand for OGD has received little attention. In our exploratory study, we take a snapshot of the most viewed items on the OGD portals of the fifty most populous US cities to investigate naturalistically the topics and types of items apparently attracting user interest. We draw implications for OGD research and practice from our preliminary analysis of highly viewed items.
Open innovation (OI) in e-government is evolving as an important research agenda, which takes advantage of new collaborations and emerging technologies in provision of public services. The objectives of the article are (1) to examine the understanding of OI in e-government in Tanzania and the practices adopted in selected public institutions, (2) to identify the challenges of OI in e-government and (3) to identify strategies for addressing the OI challenges. The article adopts a qualitative research method to investigate OI in e-government in Tanzanian context. The article concludes that 1) OI in e-government is still a new but significant research and practical agenda, 2) for Tanzania, OI is expected to accelerate innovation and to strengthen an OI ecosystem, 3) success of OI in e-government depends on how the government creates an enabling environment. This article makes theoretical and practical contributions in exploring OI practices in the Tanzanian public sector. Theoretical framework of OI in e-government is still emerging; thus, this article is timely. The practical recommendations of adoption of OI in e-government for the Tanzanian government add to the key contributions of this article.
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The emergence of Web 2.0, open source software tools, and geosocial networks, along with associated mobile devices and available government data, is widely considered to have altered the nature and processes of place-based digital participation. Considerable theorizing has been dedicated to the geographic version of Web 2.0, the geospatial Web (Geoweb). To assess the theories, we draw on four years of empirical work across Canada that considers the nature of public participation on the Geoweb. We are driven by the question of how easy or difficult it is to ?do? Geoweb-enabled participation, particularly participation as envisioned by researchers such as Arnstein and planning practitioners. We consider how the Geoweb could transform methods by which citizens and nonprofit organizations communicate with the state on environmental issues that affect their lives. We conduct a meta-analysis of twelve research cases and derive new findings that reach across the cases on how the Geoweb obliges us to redefine and unitize participation. This redefinition reifies existing digital inequalities, blurs distinctions between experts and nonexperts, heterogenizes the state as an actor in the participation process, reassigns participation activities in a participation hierarchy, and distances participation from channels of influence.
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Despite the high level of interest in open data, little research has evaluated how municipal government evaluates the success of their open data programs. This research presents results from interviews with eight Canadian municipal governments that point to two approaches to evaluation: internal and external. Internal evaluation looks for use within the data generating government, and for support from management and council. External evaluation tracks use by external entities, including citizens, private sector, or other government agencies. Three findings of this work provide guidance for the development of open data evaluation metrics. First, approaches to tracking can be both passive, via web metrics, and active, via outreach activities to users. Second, value of open data must be broadly defined, and extend beyond economic valuations. Lastly, internal support from management or council and the contributions of many organization employees towards the production of open data are important forms of self-evaluation of open data programs.
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The current popularity of government open data platforms as a way to share geospatial data has created an opportunity for government to receive direct feedback and edits on this very same data. This research proposes four models that can define how government accepts direct edits and feedback on geospatial data. The four models are a “status quo” of open data provision, data curation, data mirroring, and crowdsourcing. These models are placed on a continuum of government control ranging from high levels of control over data creation to a low level of control. Each model is discussed, with relevant challenges highlighted. These four models present an initial suite of options for governments looking to accept direct edits from data end users and can be framed as a partial realization of many of the principles of open government. Despite the varied potential of these approaches, they generate a shift in locus of control away from government, creating several areas of risk for government. Of these models, near-term interest may focus on data curation and data mirroring as evolutionary, rather than revolutionary steps that expand on the simple provision of open data.
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The open government data (OGD) movement has rapidly expanded worldwide with high expectations for substantial benefits to society. However, recent research has identified considerable social and technical barriers that stand in the way of achieving these benefits. This paper uses sociotechnical systems theory and a review of open data research and practice guidelines to develop a preliminary ecosystem model for planning and designing OGD programs. Findings from two empirical case studies in New York and St. Petersburg, Russia produced an improved general model that addresses three questions: How can a given government's open data program stimulate and support an ecosystem of data producers, innovators, and users? In what ways and for whom do these the ecosystems produce benefits? Can an ecosystem approach help governments design effective open government data programs in diverse cultures and settings? The general model addresses policy and strategy, data publication and use, feedback and communication, benefit generation, and advocacy and interaction among stakeholders. We conclude that an ecosystem approach to planning and design can be widely used to assess existing conditions and to consider policies, strategies, and relationships that address realistic barriers and stimulate desired benefits.
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New forms of participatory online geospatial technology have the potential to support citizen engagement in governance and community development. The mechanisms of this contribution have predominantly been cast in the literature as ‘citizens as sensors’, with individuals acting as a distributed network, feeding academics or government with data. To counter this dominant perspective, we describe our shared experiences with the development of three community-based Geospatial Web 2.0 (Geoweb) projects, where community organizations were engaged as partners, with the general aim to bring about social change in their communities through technology development and implementation. Developing Geoweb tools with community organizations was a process that saw significant evolution of project expectations and relationships. As Geoweb tool development encountered the realities of technological development and implementation in a community context, this served to reduce organizational enthusiasm and support for projects as a whole. We question the power dynamics at play between university researchers and organizations, including project financing, both during development and in the long term. How researchers managed, or perpetuated, many of the popular myths of the Geoweb, namely that it is inexpensive and easy to use (thought not to build, perhaps) impacted the success of each project and the sustainability of relationships between researcher and organization. Ultimately, this research shows the continuing gap between the promise of online geospatial technology, and the realities of its implementation at the community level.
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Governments have long been active online, providing services and information to citizens. With the development of Web 2.0 technology, many governments are considering how they can better engage with and accept citizen input online, particularly through the gathering and use of volunteered geographic information (VGI). Though there are several benefits to governments accepting VGI, the process of adopting VGI as a support to decision-making is not without challenge. We identify three areas of challenge to the adoption of VGI by government; these are the costs of VGI, the challenges for governments to accept non-expert data of questionable accuracy and formality, and the jurisdictional issues in VGI. We then identify three ways that governments can situate themselves to accept VGI—by formalizing the VGI collection process, through encouraging collaboration between levels of government, and by investigating the participatory potential of VGI.
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In this paper, we propose to view the concept of open government from the perspective of an ecosystem, a metaphor often used by policy makers, scholars, and technology gurus to convey a sense of the interdependent social systems of actors, organizations, material infrastructures, and symbolic resources that can be created in technology-enabled, information-intensive social systems. We use the concept of an ecosystem to provide a framework for considering the outcomes of a workshop organized to generate a research and development agenda for open government. The agenda was produced in discussions among participants from the government (at the federal, state, and local levels), academic and civil sector communities at the Center for Technology in Government (CTG) at the University at Albany, SUNY in April 2011. The paper begins by discussing concepts central to understanding what is meant by an ecosystem and some principles that characterize its functioning. We then apply this metaphor more directly to government, proposing that policymakers engage in strategic ecosystems thinking, which means being guided by the goal of explicitly and purposefully constructing open government ecosystems. From there, we present the research agenda questions essential to the development of this new view of government's interaction with users and organizations. Our goal is to call attention to some of the fundamental ways in which government must change in order to evolve from outdated industrial bureaucratic forms to information age networked and interdependent systems.
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At all levels, governments around the world are moving toward the provision of open data, that is, the direct provision to citizens, the private sector, and other third parties, of raw government datasets, controlled by a relatively permissible license. In tandem with this distribution of open data is the promotion of civic hackathons, or “app contests” by government. The civic hackathon is designed to offer prize money to developers as a way to spur innovative use of open data, more specifically the creation of commercial software applications that deliver services to citizens. Within this context, we propose that the civic hackathon has the potential to act in multiple ways, possibly as a backdoor to the traditional government procurement process, and as a form of civic engagement. We move beyond much of the hype of civic hackathons, critically framing an approach to understanding civic hackathons through these two lenses. Key questions for future research emphasize the emerging, and important, nature of this research path.
The article analyses the role of Open Government Data policy as part of the broader public policy agenda of the UK government. A thematic analysis of interview, observational and policy documentation is presented which suggests that since 2010 the Open Government Data agenda has been used strategically by the UK's centre-right coalition government to progress a range of controversial policies, which are aimed at the continuation of the neoliberal form of state through its current crisis. Specifically, the relationship between Open Government Data policy and the neoliberal objectives of the marketisation of public services and privatisation of public assets, the leveraging of financial markets and the pharmaceutical industry, and the embedding of OGD into a broader agenda aimed at rebuilding trust in political elites are analysed. These findings are examined in relation to Braman's (2006, 2011) arguments regarding the strategic implementation of information policy by Governments in the exercising of state power, and the development of the ‘informational state’.