Ireland and the Open Data Index: Path to “democracy, accountability and innovation”.

Government

Current experiences in the collection and use of data got me thinking.

I recently started collecting data for a business project. Basic stuff really. During a meeting with business colleagues, I indicated that, for management and control purposes, I was collecting this data. At which point, my colleague instructed me not to collect the data. He asked: “why would you need to know that information”? Indeed (I thought)…..mmmm…..(I said)…..hence I got thinking……

I am teaching a group of students the art of control and coordination through knowledge and information for an Organisational Theory class. From an organisational perspective, when it comes to information and knowledge or rather the control of such, the following is typically considered important: who knows what, who needs to know what, who is willing to reveal what they know, who can use what they know and what others don’t know to their own advantage and to others disadvantages.

Ok, all sounds great. But from the experience above, it is pretty obvious I’m falling into one of the latter categories and that makes me unhappy. So, it got me thinking about what I know, what I would like to know and what information or knowledge people are keeping from me! (ah, yes, the conspiracy).

During a recently class in Digital Humanities we reviewed an “open heat map” (http://www.openheatmap.com/). This data visualisation mapping tool is very cool, but only as useful as the data that populates it. Data, typically sourced through governments (or crowdsourced). So, I started thinking about government data and access to open government data and asked all those questions again: who knows what, who needs to know what, who is willing to reveal what they know, who can use what they know and what others don’t know to their own advantage and to others disadvantages. Having spent a few years in the United States, I know the Americans “used” to be good at this. But how do we fare here in Ireland?

The Open Knowledge Foundation, through their website Open Data Index, rank 70 countries and their ability to provide open data, based on contributions from open data advocates and experts around the world. Below is a summary of Ireland’s ranking versus the United Kingdom’s, since comparing Ireland to the US might be considered slightly unfair.

Ireland - UK - 1

Source: www. https://index.okfn.org/country/

The Open Data Index looked at government data from the following categories: transport timetables, government budget, government spending, election results, national maps, national statistics, legislation, postcodes/zipcodes and emissions of pollutant. Each category has been ranked based on the following (icons):

labels

The rankings are colour coordinated, where green means yes, red means no, blue is ‘unsure’ and grey represents no data available.

As you can see, in terms of information and knowledge or rather the control of information and knowledge, the Irish government are not very transparent relative to the United Kingdom (UK). Ignoring the postcode/zipcode category, as they do not exist here in Ireland (yet), the lowest ranking data set in Ireland is government spending at 10% versus the UK at 100%. Surely this is an area of significant interest to the Irish citizen considering the economic crisis which has been playing out over the last five years. Legislation is the second least accessible source for open data at 35% versus the UK at 90% and the third lowest data ranking is allocated to the Government budget at 45% versus the UK’s 90%. Again, another important data set for the citizens of Ireland. Below is a chart comparing Ireland and the UK, highlighting these three areas.

ireland-v-uk

Source: www. https://index.okfn.org/country/

According to Rufus Pollock, Founder and CEO of the Open Knowledge Foundation:
Opening up government data drives democracy, accountability and innovation. It enables citizens to know and exercise their rights, and it brings benefits across society: from transport, to education and health. There has been a welcome increase in support for open data from governments in the last few years, but this Index reveals that too much valuable information is still unavailable.

If, according to the old adage, information is power and the Irish government either does not have the data available to make it public (a bigger issue perhaps) or they choose not to; one thing is certain, policy making will still remain the stronghold of the politicians until this type of data is made available to all. Maybe we need to think about this the next time an Irish politician speaks about “democracy, accountability and innovation” during an inevitable election campaign.

Why Twitter Might Be More Successful than Facebook

Education

I am currently teaching Financial Management to a group of students in Ireland.  We have been discussing the Twitter Initial Public Offering (IPO) and what price the shares will be offered to the investment community. Today, these shares go on sale.  Last week Facebook, a comparable internet company for valuation purposes, issued their financial results, which were generally perceived as quiet good.  Their advertisement based revenue model is expected to be at least mimicked by Twitter.

However, according to Cruz (2013), the ‘good news for Facebook is that its business model is maturing but the bad news is that is audience is maturing, too’.  Or rather they are losing the younger generation.

PiperJaffray

What Third Level Students Think

So I asked my students if they were using Twitter and/or Facebook and if so, could they give me an idea which one they use the most, and why?  Keep in mind this spontaneous survey was non-scientific and part of a general conversation.  However, they came up with the following explanations:

I’m on Twitter because I can follow what I’m interested in; which is not always the same as my friends.

I feel like I get something from Twitter.

Twitter is more professional and I find it easier to contact other professionals.

Twitter is easier to use on a phone.

On Twitter I can follow celebrities I’m interested in but I would never get access to their Facebook. 

From a Facebook perspective:

Facebook has better blocking of material than Twitter.

Your parents/guardians/aunts/uncles are on Facebook and that inhibits what I write.

I associate Facebook as personal and private where I share my personal pictures.

I have had my own suspicious as to why people are migrating from Facebook to Twitter.  Cruz (2013) points out that apparently Facebook ‘creates shallow connections’ and people feel they are no longer ‘users’ but ‘data’ (note to Twitter Management!).  However, I want to concentrate on one student’s response: ‘I feel like I’m getting something from Twitter’. I believe the younger generation are using Twitter as a source of knowledge.  If they are using it as a source of knowledge (being data processed into information) then Twitter provides a platform for the user (bottom-up) and the company (top-down) to both benefit from the portal’s data, unlike Facebook.

The Role of Twitter in Education

The role of Twitter in education is an active research topic for most academics.  For instance, Dr. Stephen Thorpe believes that Twitter is the “worst thing created in my lifetime”.  According to Watson (2010), the “screenager” generation have been accused of being pointillistic in their approach to knowledge at the cost of deeper or more reflective thinking.  Their appetite for “multitasking and parallel processing” has been criticised as having an adverse effect on learning.  William Strauss and Neil Howe have gone so far as to say “the twenty-first century teen, connected and multi-tasked, autonomous yet peer-mindful, marks no great leap forward in human intelligence or global thinking”.  Ouch!

But are they right?  If people are using Twitter as a source of information/knowledge surely this is a good thing? David Weiss (2013) points out:

There is an enormous amount of noise and useless information posted on Twitter, just like there are an enormous number of conversations that are completely pointless. Even scholarly communication has this flaw! But there are also thriving communities of people who are learning an enormous amount, and who are pushed out of their comfort zones by exchanges with people in other parts of the world.

According to Rinaldo, Laverine, and Trapp (2013), Twitter, as a Cognitive Flexibility Hypertext (CFH), “provides a complex environment where students should engage deeply with the material; gain a deeper understanding”.  Evans (3013) found a positive correlation between “Twitter usage and student engagement in University-associated activities”.  Nielsen (2008) talks about the web being perfect for “narrow just-in-time learning of information nuggets — so long as the learner already has the conceptual framework in place to make sense of the facts”.

So when it comes to Twitter and knowledge, there is one side of the camp who believe it does not contribute to the linear logical reflective practice of traditional teaching.  The other side are the generation who feel Twitter suits their way of learning.  Is this a matter of never the twain can meet, or can Twitter really contribute to the educational process?  One of the major criticisms of Twitter above is its apparent lack of connection to deeper learning and perhaps the process of theorizing.

What if Twitter is a conduit for theorizing?? In her book on Organization Theory, Mary-Jo Hatch talks about the process of how a ‘theory’ is developed.  I’m prefacing here, but her basic advice when trying to develop a theory is to identify concepts, remove the unique details of that particular example to produce an abstraction, thereby producing something than can be generalize and theorized:

Abstract concepts give you the ability to think rapidly and efficiently about numerous instances and through the abstraction process you can distil the common aspects.  In addition to rapid processing and communication of knowledge, abstraction allows you to pack large quantities of knowledge into a single concept and thereby to process what you already know efficiently. (Hatch, 2013: 6)

According to Hatch (2013) the importance of efficient processing is characterized by a cognitive phenomenon called ‘chunking’.  Cognitive psychologist tells us that “human have the capacity to think about, roughly, seven (plus or minus two) CHUNKS of information at any one time and chunking makes a significant contribution to theorizing – it permits you to relate immense bodies of knowledge to each other and manipulate them to generate new knowledge” (Hatch, 2013: 6).  If Twitter can provide the conduit for ‘chunking’ maybe it is not so bad after all?

Conclusion

The title of this piece asked if Twitter will be different, or more successful than Facebook.  I watched the following Youtube video some years ago while I was looking to ‘entertain’ a group of students as to why maths or rather statistics could be fun and applied to real life.

I really liked this video because it brings everyday people into the spotlight.  The video explains that London taxi drivers have a better memory, or a more developed hippocampus, than most people because they have had to learn the layout of London while operating their taxi.  From an education perspective this is the essence of ‘learning by doing’ which according to Wikipedia, “refers to the capability of workers to improve their productivity by regularly repeating the same type of action. The increased productivity is achieved through practice, self-perfection and minor innovations”.

Can Twitter provide the ultimate ‘learning-by-doing’ platform for the ‘screenagers’?  Benjamin Franklin said; “tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn”.  Maybe teenagers are not just “foraging for facts” but are “chunking” to help them theorize or make sense of knowledge. This might not be linear learning, proposed by traditional educationalist, but what if it works?  Maybe, just maybe, Twitter will be more successful that Facebook because it can provide a learning portal and have appeal as a data source from the bottom-up (users) and top-down (management).