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Open Data and Empowering Intermediaries. Why and how the Open Data Movement wants to transform Journalism

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Open Data and Empowering Intermediaries. Why and how the Open Data Movement wants to transform Journalism

  1. 1. Open Data and Empowering Intermediaries Why and how the Open Data Movement wants to transform Journalism 27.06.14 | 1 Stefan Baack, PhD Candidate Centre for Media and Journalism Studies University of Groningen s.baack@rug.nl - @tweetbaack
  2. 2. Open Knowledge Foundation Deutschland 27.06.14 | 2
  3. 3. Outline 1. Why activists are interested in Journalism 2. How activists attempt to influence Journalism 3. Concluding thoughts 27.06.14 | 3
  4. 4. 1. Why activists are interested in Journalism › Short answer: Because the empowering potential activists see in Open Data can only be fulfilled with intermediaries that make raw data accessible to the public 27.06.14 | 4
  5. 5. 1. Why activists are interested in Journalism › Empowering potential of Open Data? › Transformation of Open Source culture: ‘raw data’ is regarded as ‘source code’ that should be shared openly 27.06.14 | 5
  6. 6. 1. Why activists are interested in Journalism › Raw data is an oxymoron! But… › Sharing it openly democratizes the process of interpreting it › Availability of raw data breaks information monopolies and represents a ‘democratization of information’ › Everybody has the opportunity to make his or her own interpretation of raw data 27.06.14 | 6
  7. 7. 1. Why activists are interested in Journalism › For activists, this democratization of information has the potential to empower citizens because it allows them… › …to better understand and control their governments › …to participate meaningfully on a broader scale 27.06.14 | 7
  8. 8. 1. Why activists are interested in Journalism › But: Without (Data-)Intermediaries, no empowerment › Empowering intermediaries should be: › Data-driven › Open › Encourage participation 27.06.14 | 8
  9. 9. 2. How activists attempt to influence Journalism › In two ways: 1. Seeking co-operations and offer teaching 2. Acting as intermediaries themselves 27.06.14 | 9
  10. 10. 2. How activists attempt to influence Journalism › Co-operation and teaching 27.06.14 | 10
  11. 11. 2. How activists attempt to influence Journalism › Acting as intermediaries › Trying to fulfill ‘journalistic’ functions outside professional journalism – complementing or replacing it? 27.06.14 | 11
  12. 12. 2. How activists attempt to influence Journalism › Acting as intermediaries: Complementing or replacing professional journalism? Example 1: FragDenStaat.de (WhatDoTheyKnow) 27.06.14 | 12
  13. 13. 2. How activists attempt to influence Journalism › Acting as intermediaries: Complementing or replacing professional journalism? Example 2: FrankfurtGestalten.de (‘ShapingFrankfurt’) 27.06.14 | 13
  14. 14. To summarize… 1. Activists are interested in journalism because the empowering potential of Open Data can only be fulfilled with ‘empowering intermediaries’ 2. Values and practices of activists have the potential to reinforce the position of professional journalists as ‘data-intermediaries’, but at the same time could also challenge the professional autonomy of journalism 27.06.14 | 14
  15. 15. 3. Concluding thoughts › Broader implications? • Activists in the Open Data movement apply practices and values from the Open Source culture to society at large through Open Data (see also Kelty 2008) • Open Data as a ‘vehicle’ of values and practices from Open Source culture? 27.06.14 | 15
  16. 16. 3. Concluding thoughts › The ‘datafication’ of society may not only lead to 'Big Data rationalities', but also to a spread of values and practices from Open Source culture, which can form the basis to articulate concepts like participation, democracy and journalism in new ways – Relevance? 27.06.14 | 16
  17. 17. Thank you! 27.06.14 | 17 Stefan Baack, PhD Candidate Centre for Media and Journalism Studies University of Groningen s.baack@rug.nl - @tweetbaack
  18. 18. Reference › Kelty, C. M. (2008). Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software. Durham: Duke University Press. Retrieved from http://twobits.net/read/ 27.06.14 | 18

Editor's Notes

  • In this presentation I want to talk about the link between activism around Open Data and journalism…
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  • …and I will do this from the perspective of activists in the German Open Knowledge Foundation which is one of the key actors in the German Open Data movement
    My starting point are Open Data activists because I think that research about Open Data or more generally research about the 'datafication' of society rarely addresses the role of activists in these developments. I also think that the existing research often fails to acknowledge the diversity of activism around data. When activists are addressed, most researchers simply refer to the Open Source or Hacker culture. And of course, Open Source and Hacker culture are important roots for activists in the Open Data movement. However, I think we oversimplify things when we suggest that these roots are directly transferred to new domains like Open Data without any transformation. And in this presentation, I want to show that it is exactly the transformation of values and practices from the Open Source culture that leads activists in the Open Data movement to the issue of journalism.
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  • Now in the next minutes I want to address three questions: Why are activists interested in journalism, how do they attempt to influence journalism and what might be broader implications and the relevance of these attempts.
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  • The short answer is because the empowering potential they see in Open Data can only be fulfilled with intermediaries that make raw data accessible to the public
    To explain what this means I have to go back to the point I just made about the transformation of Open Source culture.
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  • The concept of empowerment developed by these activists comes from the idea to regard ‘raw data’ as ‘source code’. So just like the Open Source or Free Software movement demands that the source code behind software should be shared openly, the Open Data movement wants that raw data is shared openly so everybody can access it, reuse it, etc. On the one hand, this may not sound surprising because it relates to the very idea behind Open Data. Open Data, for those who don't know, is usually understood as raw data – in most cases collected by governments – that is openly available for everybody. What is more interesting and unique, I think, is what ‘raw data’ actually represents for activists.
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  • One of the most common critiques about dataism, especially in discussions about ‘Big Data’, is that "raw data is an oxymoron". This is a critique on the belief that raw data represents an objective truth and that it is something completely neutral. Most of the activists I talked with are aware that raw data has biases and is neither neutral nor objective. But what is important for them is that the availability of raw data will allow people to make their own interpretation of it. So for them, Open Data represents a democratization of interpretation if you will or – as one of the activists I talked with described it to me – a "democratization of information".
    The idea is that without Open Data, without access to raw data, governments have an information monopoly, a monopoly of interpretation. Activists argue that with Open Data, these monopolies will break and everybody will have the opportunity to make his or her own interpretation of raw data.
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  • This democratization of information has – in the eyes of these activists – the potential to empower citizens because it could allow them to better understand and control their governments (because they could have better and more accurate information) and it could also enable them to participate on a broader scale, especially in political decision-making processes because information is seen as a precondition for participation.
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  • However, activists recognize that this vision of empowerment through Open Data can only be realized with intermediaries that make raw data accessible to the public and enable or encourage the participation of citizens. And this is the concept that I described also in the title of this presentation as ‘Empowering Intermediaries’.
    ‘Empowering Intermediaries’ should be data-driven, open and encourage participation. Data-driven simply means that they should be data-literate, they should be able to handle large and complex data sets. Open means that these intermediaries should be transparent that the sources, or the data used to create news should be accessible to the audience. Enabling participation implies that these intermediaries should not only be information providers. Enabling the public to participate is something that goes beyond telling them what is the news. This could mean that these intermediaries also need to be discussion forums for examples and that they should have a more co-operative relationship with their audiences. They should have a greater role also in the production-process of journalism for example.
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  • Having this in mind, I would like to come to my second question: How do activists actually attempt to influence journalism? Or in other words: How are the values and imaginations that I just described to you translated into practices?
    The answer might seem simple at first: First, they try to co-operate with professional journalists and offer teaching; second, they try to act as intermediaries themselves, which means they are building independent and non-profit applications that are supposed to 'implement' their values and imaginations.
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  • About the co-operation and teaching: I just give you a few examples here. Most of these events are international and not organized by the OKF in Germany, but nevertheless its member and also some of the people I interviewed are involved in them. The most famous example is probably "Hacks/Hackers", which is an international grassroots organization to bring together Hackers and journalists. And you also have some of these events in Germany, in Berlin or Hamburg for example. Internationally, the OKF also organizes the "School of Data" which is completely dedicated to teaching data-literacy to journalists or other NGOs. These are just a few examples of course, there are many more. But the point is that overall, the interaction between journalists and activists is increasing, also because journalists are becoming more interested in being data-literate and connected to this become also more interested in the ideas of Open Data activists.
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  • I want to talk a little bit more about the second aspect of acting as intermediaries. What is interesting about the projects developed independently by activists is that these projects are trying to fulfill functions that can be considered 'journalistic'. They try to make governments more transparent and accountable, and they also try to enable citizens to participate. And because activists develop these projects independently outside professional journalism, but at the same time are trying to fulfill similar functions, I suggest that by acting as intermediaries themselves, the projects of these activists could potentially complement or even replace professional journalism to some degree.. Let me illustrate this with two different examples.
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  • The first example is FragDenStaat (which is inspired by the British WhatDoTheyKnow). This is an application that helps people to make a freedom of information request to public authorities. On the one hand, you can argue that this application complements professional journalism because journalists can use it as a research tool for their own investigations, they can make and archive their own freedom of information requests on that platform. On the other hand, FragDenStaat is explicitly designed for citizens. By enabling citizens to use the same research tools journalists have, activists weaken the professional autonomy of journalism. By openly providing this research tool for everybody, they render alternative forms of journalism outside the profession possible. In this way, FragDenStaat can be seen both as a useful tool for journalists, but also as a potential threat to their professional autonomy.
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  • The second example is FrankfurtGestalten (which translates to ~'Shaping-Frankfurt'). This application monitors information provided by local parliaments in the city of Frankfurt and illustrates them on a map. Users can check what is currently discussed in their street or district (e.g. building projects), comment on it or initiate new discussions. This is a bit similar to a more well-known application from the US called "Everyblock" which also collected all kinds of information to provide this type of local news and discussion forum. I think that applications like Frankfurt-Gestalten represent a 'data-driven' form of local journalism that is focused on encouraging citizens to participate. And again, this might complement local journalism because journalists might find new stories with it, but it could also replace local journalism to some degree – when people start to go to a website like this instead of reading the local newspaper.
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  • Now I’m almost at the end of my presentation. To quickly summarize my two main arguments again: First, activists are interested in journalism because the empowering potential they see in Open Data can only be fulfilled with ‘empowering intermediaries’ – and they want journalism to be one of these empowering intermediaries. Second, values and practices of activists have the potential to reinforce the position of professional journalists as ‘data-intermediaries’, but at the same they could also challenge the professional autonomy of journalism because activists act as intermediaries themselves and develop applications that fulfill ‘journalistic’ functions.
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  • I would like to end this presentation by thinking a little bit about the "So what?" question: What are the broader implications of the values and practices developed by activists in the Open Data movement? And for that, I would like to go back to the point I made at the beginning: that the Open Data movement transforms values and practices of the Open Source culture. I gave you the example that raw data is regarded as source code by activists. But this is only one example of how they transform Open Source culture.
    I was thinking that maybe we can generalize this observation. Maybe we can argue that the Open Data movement uses Open Data to apply practices and values from the Open Source culture to society at large. Or in other words: Open Data is used by activists as a ‘vehicle’ to apply values and practices of Open Source culture to new domains outside software development. (To take inspiration from Actor-Network-Theory, you can probably say that Open Data is a 'mediator' of Open Source culture, an entity that transforms the meaning of the elements it is supposed to carry.)
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  • Then maybe one of the lessons we can take from this is that datafication of society, which is most often discussed in relation to 'Big Data' or social media, can also lead to a spread of values and practices from the Open Source culture, which can form the basis to articulate concepts like participation, empowerment or journalism in new ways - just like the Open Data movement does, as I tried to illustrate in this presentation.
    Maybe this can be seen as a counter-rationality to ‘Big Data’, which is often associated with centralized control and surveillance and a threat to democracy.
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  • I would like to end this presentation by thinking a little bit about the "So what?" question: What are the broader implications of the values and practices developed by activists in the Open Data movement? And for that, I would like to go back to the point I made at the beginning: that the Open Data movement transforms values and practices of the Open Source culture. I gave you the example that raw data is regarded as source code by activists. But this is only one example of how they transform Open Source culture.
    I was thinking that maybe we can generalize this observation. Maybe we can argue that the Open Data movement uses Open Data to apply practices and values from the Open Source culture to society at large. Or in other words: Open Data is used by activists as a ‘vehicle’ to apply values and practices of Open Source culture to new domains outside software development. (To take inspiration from Actor-Network-Theory, you can probably say that Open Data is a 'mediator' of Open Source culture, an entity that transforms the meaning of the elements it is supposed to carry.)
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