Methodical Snark critical reflections on how we measure and assess civic tech

Methods for Measuring Open Data


Back in 2014, the Web Foundation and the GovLab at NYU brought together open data assessment experts from Open Knowledge, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, United Nations, Canada’s International Development Research Centre, and elsewhere to explore the development of common methods and frameworks for the study of open data. It resulted in a draft template or framework for measuring open data.

That’s Danny Lämmerhirt and Stefaan Verhulst on the OIDC blog, prepping for follow up work at the Madrid conference next month. I’m embarrassed to note that I didn’t know about that framework (troubling re pt 3 below), or the recommendations that followed in the International Open Data Conference roadmap of 2015:

  1. Reviewing and refining the Common Assessment Methods for Open Data framework. This framework lays out four areas of inquiry:context of open data, the data published, use practices and users, as well as the impact of opening data.
  2. Developing a catalogue of assessment methods to monitor progress against the International Open Data Charter (based on the Common Assessment Methods for Open Data).
  3. Networking researchers to exchange common methods and metrics. This helps to build methodologies that are reproducible and increase credibility and impact of research.
  4. Developing sectoral assessments.

Pt 4 seems quite a ways down the road and I’m pretty skeptical to point 1, largely because it seems much more likely to succeed as a deductive rather than inductive exercise, which means we need a lot more progress on pts 2 and 3 first. And those two fit well together from a pragmatic perspective.

Danny and Stefaan note a bunch of sessions in the Madrid meeting that will be geared to build on this work, and together with the networking and repository work GovLab is doing, they’re well positioned to advance both these points together.

To my mind, the big question might be about incentivization. It’s great to have networks and platforms to develop networks and exchange, but it always requires overhead on the part of participants. There’s a tradition in the open data research community to incentivize with spots on the international conference circuit and potential for project funding from groups like the Web Foundation and IDRC. I think it’s debateable whether that model is worth reinforcing, and personally I think the social capital dynamics tend to produce a weird selection bias in terms of who participates.

I’d rather love to take a hard look at whether platforms and networks can add value in terms of efficiency at the country level, also for government actors. From this, there’s also a likely a lot to learn from the OGP networking efforts.

Looking fwd to Madrid. I’ll do my homework.

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Methodical Snark critical reflections on how we measure and assess civic tech