Academic journal article URISA Journal

The Civic Open Data and Crowdsourcing App Ecosystem: Actors, Materials, and Interventions

Academic journal article URISA Journal

The Civic Open Data and Crowdsourcing App Ecosystem: Actors, Materials, and Interventions

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Opening up civic data has become part of the modern infrastructure of municipal governments. Opening data has several goals: To enhance transparency and accountability, increase government efficiency and service delivery, and promote economic development and business intelligence (Sieber and Johnson 2015). Most open data provisions, however, consist of little more than "throwing data over the wall" (ibid.). This may ensure open data data that can be "freely used, modified, and shared by anyone for any purpose" (Open Knowledge International 2012) begins to meet its goals, but can fail to describe all the actors involved in open data adoption, sustainability, and value. Regardless, government remains confident in the potential of open data apps to improve public services (Bates, 2014).

Concepts such as crowdsourcing (Brabham 2009), citizen science (Haklay 2013), and Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) (Goodchild 2007) offer new sources of data for governments and introduce opportunities for citizen-side collaboration. Indeed, governments look to citizen contributions of data as a form of public engagement and a substitute for declining government resources.

Regardless of the source (government or citizen), civic data will require infomediaries. This has become the accepted norm in public use of open data, by which "entrepreneurial actors will create 'apps' that make data accessible to citizens" (Davies, Perini, and Alonso 2013, 14), which also can extend to government uses of data.

The term infomediary originally was defined by Hagel and Rayport (1997) as "custodians, agents, and brokers of customer information, marketing it to businesses on consumers' behalf." Infomediaries (sometimes referred to simply as intermediaries) now are generally understood as actors that help manage data and information between a data source and user (Janssen and Zuiderwijk 2014). They partake in converting data to information, such as creating databases that track activities of local politicians to increase citizen engagement with politics, or promoting data interoperability by combining local-level data as a form of community building (Worthy 2015). We use an Actor-Network Theory (ANT) definition of the actor, which is anything that "acts or to which activity is granted by others" (Latour 1996, 373). This allows us to use the "actor" to describe any human or non-human entity in the open data app ecosystem that exerts control over data. We define infomediaries as actors that transform or control data, but exist outside of government control. Not all actors are infomediaries; decision makers in government who exert their own control over data are not infomediaries.

Traditionally, government has outsourced much of its information technology (IT), some ofwhich is developed by traditional sources such as private-sector consultants and, more recently, created by emergent sources such as participants in hackathons (Chen and Gant 2001, Johnson and Robinson 2014). Infomediaries market their services with easy-to-use public interfaces and back-end analytics. The current Web 2.0 paradigm, defined by O'Reilly (2007) as a shift towards dynamic and user-generated web content, treats data and software as a dynamic service, making outsourcing of analytics and hosting to infomediaries more attractive. Government must trust that these infomediary services remain operational so that data continues to flow. Infomediaries may exert control in the form of data (re)formatting, aggregation, interface design, analytics, and mapping. Control includes access to data, as access can allow or limit the potential to manipulate data. Infomediaries may be human (e.g., software developer) or non-human, (e.g., data server). We are interested in identifying the significance of all actors because infomediaries presumably augment raw data with operational functionality and value.

In this article, we describe infomediaries found in five municipal applications (apps) that are built around civic data, using ANT to frame them within the app ecosystem. …

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