I am a researcher at the University of Southampton, doing a PhD into Open Data and Democracy in UK Local Authorities and I am looking for case studies. I am already working closely with a few authorities such as Windsor and Maidenhead and the Hampshire Hub and I am very keen to add a few more (I am doing this late in life having retired a few years ago following a career in IT).
I am hoping some of you reading this can help!
What’s The Project All About?
There has been lots of research into how to publish open data and encourage people to use it. There has been rather less research into its consequences, particularly the political consequences, and that is my interest. Open data is meant to increase transparency and encourage political participation. But does it really? And, if it does, then how are transparency and participation changed? And what about the future as open data becomes more a way of life? Transparency didn’t begin with open data. It has been studied at least since Jeremy Bentham wrote about in the 18th century. There are different types of transparency and many factors that need to be in place to get the benefits. Similar considerations apply to political engagement. I want to apply this kind of thinking about politics to open data in UK local government.
This means understanding how open data is used and how it affects users and political decisions in detail. And the best way to tackle this is case studies.
So What Will I Be Doing?
Mainly I want to interview people. There are three categories of people I need to talk to.
· Data Producers: Of course, it is vital to talk to people who publish the data. How do you choose what data to publish? What do you think is the best way to present it? What do you expect people to do with it? How do you determine who is using it?
· Current and Potential Data Users: I also need to talk to potential users – local press, charities, campaigns, local businesses, interested residents, application developers – anyone who might be a significant user of the data. These are the people and organisations who are using or could use the data to gain greater transparency and devise new ways of participating and collaborating with their local authority.
· Councillors and senior officers: Equally importantly I want to talk to councillors and senior officers in the authorities who make strategic political decisions. They are also current and potential users of the data (in fact there is quite a lot of evidence they are the among the biggest users of open data – at least in the early stages) and they are the ones whose strategies and decisions could be changed by the presence of open data.
How Can You Help?
If you work for a local authority, or a group of authorities like the Hampshire Hub, and think your organisation might be a good case study I would love to hear from you.
My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org and mobile is 0773 887 4040.
My experience is that each case study involves about 10 interviews inside the authority and 10 outside. Interviews typically take less than 30 minutes, face-to-face or telephone, at a time and place of the interviewee’s choosing. I record the interviews but this is only for my own use to supplement my notes. The interviewee controls how much of what they say is attributed to them in my research. They can remain anonymous if they wish.
What Happens to the Results?
When I have finished all the case studies I will write up the main conclusions for each case study and circulate to any interviewee who is interested before publishing (probably by submitting to one of the many conferences on open data). Each case study will then contribute to my Ph D and hopefully broader conclusions about Open Data and Democracy in UK Local Authorities