I wish the Open Access movement were further along, and academic publications were posted in public online, because that would make it easier to share some of the things I’ve learned in the last two days at the Digital Government Society Conference. Since I can’t link to most of the research I’m learning about, I’ll have to just offer my basic reactions:(read more)
I approached this gathering initially from the perspective that there is an unfortunate disconnect between public policy and academic research, and my suspicions have been confirmed. The research and technological development I’ve seen so far have exceeded my expectations, despite their overall absence from the congressional policy sphere. Here are some of my observations so far: (many more available via twitter)
- Natural Language Processing appears poised to soon become far more relevant to public administration and policy creation. Political problems from e-government services providing to portals creation to text annotation to policy deliberation are all seeing significant attention from developers and theorists working from a semantic processing perspective. By extracting entities from text and then applying various processing techniques, developers hope to highlight new connections between data sets, suggest solutions to problems like emergency response systems and disaster management, identify dispositions among participants in deliberative contexts (labeling arguments as vitriolic, clarificatory, diplomatic, etc), allowing similar concepts to be linked automatically (by detecting all legal references, all members of Congress, or all cities), or even detecting the position or ideology of a speaker. While these technologies haven’t gotten much of a presence in our daily lives so far, the sheer amount of convergent semantic development suggests to me that there will soon exist an emergent political semantic web. Technologies like "active learning" and socially constructed ontologies promise to only accelerate these developments.
- Social research into IT coordination and policy makers’ motivations reminds me of social media commentary from blogs: sometimes revelatory and entirely valuable, sometimes speculative and of questionable value. Clearly many of the discussions about staff and administrators’ motivations could use a greater pool of examples to draw from, just as the administrators could probably benefit from more abstract reflection (what are the implications of this exclusive contract I’m about to sign?) One set of researchers presented a grid explaining the types of options presented to governments when choosing to release public data. While some options were missing (like "sell to the public", like some GPO products), the examination gave concrete explanations of the decisions and evaluations that public administrators deal with when facing public access decisions.
- The Center for Technology in Government from the University at Albany’s Center for Technology in Government seems full of things I/we should read. They’re heavily involved in researching and developing inter and intra-governmental collaboration, working with both e-government implementation and trans-national research projects. I’m looking forward to reading more essays like this, or this. One of their researchers gave a great presentation about the ways governments define "borders", which has implications for immigration, social policy, and economic policies like subsidies or tariffs.
- Apparently some areas are using the detectable density of cell phones within an area to detect traffic patterns. This is neat.
- Anyone working on web traffic and social visualizations should check out SIOC, or the Semantically Interlinked Online Communities project, providing an RDF framework for visualizing blog and website relationships (as far as my basic understanding reaches, that is–it probably does more than that description gives it justice). This is one of those things that I come across and say "Josh Tauberer should check this out".
- One commenter drew a parallel between two panels that everyone enjoyed: Privacy advocates suggest (apparently) that "it’s not the technology, it’s the policy". This was apparently bolstered by the example of some new Canadian food handling practices, where cows and eggs and other food sources are labelled individually with codes or RFID tags, rendering each food item and distribution and production site very trackable. I’m not sure what the conclusion is from the two examples, but the privacy experts seemed quite amused by the cattle-to-human comparison.
- I saw a project that tracked the three dimensional shape of individual tree’s canopies, to help local governments decide which to cut down and which to leave standing. The charts showing 3d rendered versions of more or less desirable trees seemed emblematic of the way digital technology is enabling new kinds of evaluations to be made on governmental decisions. They’re also quite pleasing aesthetically. Here are some screen-caps.
That’s all for today, I should have more tomorrow, or check out the twitter stream for more live commentary.