DelibAnalysis: Analyzing Twitter Data for the 2016 US Presidential Elections

This project will be a computational analysis, done primarily in R, of political discourse on Twitter during the US Presidential Elections. A combination of network analysis and discourse analysis, using Bayesian methodologies and sentiment analysis, are currently being explored. See the exploratory code on GitHub here.

Guest blog for Samara Canada: Online deliberation in a new age of Canadian politics

I was fortunate enough to write a guest blog on my research at the University of Toronto for Samara Canada, an organization dedicated to enhancing democratic participation in Canada.

Over the last few decades, polls have shown citizens’ decreasing levels of trust and engagement in the Canadian political process. This trend comes at a time when the improvement of online technologies such as forums, social media and chats is allowing a new kind of dialogue between political parties and citizens. Is the online public sphere a viable avenue for reviving citizen engagement and influence in Canadian politics?

Read the full article here.

Can open data play a role in the organization of shame?

A revised version of this article will appear in the United Nations’ Internal Voices.

Over the past few years, there has been a steady increase in the number of government open data websites. These sites not only publish large volumes of government data and make it accessible for public download, but they also facilitate access through interactive search and browsing capabilities, simple navigation systems and outreach strategies. While some have expressed optimism as to the potential of government open data, others have been more hesitant, calling for the development of appropriate evaluation tools.

The United States, led by former Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra, has been a leader in the open data movement, particularly through its index for government data stored on hundreds of other US government websites – Data.gov.
The initiative followed United States President Barack Obama’s publicly available Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, in which he outlined the three objectives of his administration’s Open Government Directive – transparency, participation and collaboration. A frontrunner in technologies facilitating open government, Data.gov allows citizens to download the data and create novel data mashups. The website has the potential not only to facilitate government-to-government and government-to-citizen communications, but also to foster citizen-led technological innovation.

The United Nations is also a leader in open data practices. The United Nations Development Programme, for example, has for many years provided data on the Human Development Index. Various UN agencies, such as the World Health Organization and the International Telecommunications Union, provide country-level and aggregate data on the themes that they are tracking, such as child mortality and Internet penetration rates.

There have also been many efforts to provide data on the progress and high-level commitments to the Millennium Development Goals. But why are these initiatives important?

Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon recently talked about the importance of holding UN member countries accountable for their commitments to the Millennium Development Goals, saying: “We cannot afford to leave the poor event further behind.” His comments are reminiscent of those of United Nations Declaration of Human Rights principal drafter John Humphrey, who wrote in 1974: “It seems to me that in so far as human rights is concerned, a solution has been found in what may be called the organization of shame. Most governments, including international governments, are sensitive to world public opinion.”

At stake, therefore, might be important UN objectives: peace-building, social progress and the enhancement of living standards and human rights worldwide.

Three individuals who have greatly contributed to the open government policy debates in the United States are Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation, Beth Novek and Vivek Kundra. In its Sunlight Agenda 2010, the Sunlight Foundation notes that transparency fosters civic participation and that a key feature of this transparency is access to and accessibility of information. Miller states that: “core to the President’s campaign for government transparency is the use of technology in ways that redefine what ‘public information’ means – that is online information, information that is as easily searchable as it is easily accessible”. She also adds that a key feature of the Data.gov website is the capacity it gives to citizens to create aggregate data that affects their daily lives and increase their civic participation.

In a similar vein, Noveck has written extensively on the benefits of open data technology for democracy. Her main claim is that online technologies have provided the opportunity for collaborative governance and innovation, one in which citizens participate through distributed, open source channels.

Finally, Kundra is widely considered to be the initiator of the American open data system at a national level. In public appearances and government reports, he makes it clear that his priority is “to create a runway, a platform for innovation”. Like Noveck, he values giving citizens the tools for innovation in technology and participation in policy. In doing so, he places emphasis on the quality of the platform and the data it hosts.

However, the impact of open data initiatives still remains to be determined. How does one evaluate the success of open data websites to reach national and international objectives?

The academic approach often leads to ethnographic case studies that are time and resource intensive and require a high level of access to the development team and the website users. On the other hand, practitioners tend to use website analytics, that are useful when it comes to tracking visitors and producing reports, but that can’t take into account the greater social objectives of the technologies. This divide between academics and practitioners points to the need for greater collaboration between them, and for a middle ground between qualitative and quantitative evaluation methods.

The United Nations, with its global reach and access to extensive amounts of qualitative and quantitative data, can take a lead in evaluating the effectiveness of open data website development. It can determine new guidelines for the type of data that should be published, the timing for its publication and the appropriateness of different user interfaces. An in-depth examination of the impact of open data websites on international objectives has the potential to provide insights that could have a lasting effect on accountability, efficiency and public engagement worldwide.

Evaluating the Impact of Open Data Websites

The following paper was presented at the Oxford Internet Institute’s Symposium on the Dynamics of the Internet and Society in September 2011.

Over the past few years, the steady increase in the number of government open data websites has led to a call for appropriate evaluation tools. While some (Noveck, 2009) have expressed optimism as to the potential of government open data, others (Coglianese, 2009; Hindman, 2009) have been more hesitant. This paper therefore aims to answer the following question: how does one evaluate the success of open data websites in reaching democratic objectives? In doing so, it explores past academic studies and examines the researcher’s experience with interpretive inquiry. Using Data.gov as an example, it argues that survey-based research, a common tool in information systems analysis, may not be suited to open data websites. Instead, it suggests a content analysis methodology, which hopes to inform future research on the subject.

Find on the Social Science Research Network site

Download (15 pages – PDF)

Visual research methods workshop 2

On February 10, 2011, I had the pleasure of facilitating the second visual research methods workshop the the University of Toronto, with the support the Knowledge Media Design Institute and the Faculty of Information.

The workshop was inspired by David Gauntlett’s ArtLab Lego Serious Play project, during which he had research participants build representations of the identities out of clay.

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In this version of the workshop, the participants – students, researchers and professors – modelled their research ideas out of clay and explained their clay models with each other. This physical representation of an abstract concept allowed the participants to focus their ideas and discuss them with their peers. In turn, the other participants were able to quickly understand the research idea and provide feedback, suggestions and critiques.

The workshop would not have happened without each person’s commitment to the workshop and enthusiasm for this technique. Thank you to all who, through their support and encouragement, made this possible. I hope that we will soon have another!