Friday, October 30, 2015

The Civic Data Divide

I'd like to coin the term "civic data divide", and given that Google shows zero results for it, I think I can make that claim.

More importantly, I've been working on a paper looking at factors that affect the strength of a nation's open data policy. The numbers show that, although some people have theorized about the importance of both internet access and education for open civic data, neither of these factors play a role, at least not on the national level, indicating that, as we might expect, the early users of and agitators for open civic data are those who can use it: those who have internet access and those with the education to work with numbers. This is a minority of the citizenry, and as such the national measures for overall education and overall internet connectivity do not statistically relate to the strength of a nation's open data policy.

This should not come as a surprise, given the many other socio-economic divides in terms of access we've seen before, such as the digital divide. The civic data divide, I would argue, is an extension of what scholar Pippa Norris has discussed as the democratic divide, where there are some who use the internet to engage with governance and those who do not or cannot.

Yet this is not an overly problematic scenario. Internet access and education are indeed not evenly distributed across any one country, but many of those working with civic data and open data policies work every day with the issues faced by nations and cities, and as such they are aware of and engaged with socio-economic inequalities, and, more importantly, are trying to address the issues and make things better for all citizens. Along with the expansion of civic data programs and outreach (such as MIT's Civic Data Design Lab and NYU's Center for Urban Science and Progress), although the civic data divide currently exists, the very ideals behind open civic data are working to overcome it.

Google as of October 30, 2015, 5pm NYC time.

Edit: So, this does imply that those working on civic data are able to utilize their resources (socio-economic) for education so they have data skills, and so they can do this outside of their nation's educational system. But besides those that already have the resources for education, I'm guessing there are some who instead learn the needed skills via online courses, meetups, and other alternative educational avenues. But you still have to have the time to work on these projects.