Tuesday 22 September 2009

Using transparency to get citizens alert and active, or how Christian Kreutz influenced my thinking

It has been a very hectic period over the last couple of weeks. A tight workshop, planning a facilitator training, a short course with a lot of online activity, budget hassles, my master starting up … and this kept me from writing posts on a regular basis. I was also in an existential dip on blogposting.

Lucky for me I had one fresh and inspiring encounter at the middle of these chaotic weeks: meeting Christian Kreutz. His blog has been an inspiration for the last couple of years and all of a sudden I had the chance to meet him in Brussels.

Engaging citizens by analyzing (internet) data – civil society
We had an informal meeting, but a lot of what I learned from him made sense and sharpened my overall thinking on the use of websites and the internet to get civil society moving.

So what did Christian say that I found so enlightening? He simply said that we have all this data at our fingertips (google statistics, geo information, …), and all of these available data could be used for the better of society and its citizens.
In the past he has been writing about it. He wrote on metrics for social networks and what really happens, focusing on knowledge sharing and learning, he wrote about 6 innovative mashups for transparency, in which you could see the impact certain decisions have on the social fabric of regions (I was especially struck by the Healthcarethatworks – website that shows the New York City wide status for hospitals and its disproportionate impact that recent hospital closures have on low-income communities.) and his most recent post was on maptivism as a new approach of activism (based on the estimate that as much as 80% of data contains geo-referenced information. So, a lot of information can be displayed through maps. Digital maps allow easy ways to present large amounts of data and reduce complexity.)

The internet started out as a Utopia for me. It would benefit people around the world and make the globe a better place. With the increased absorption of internet initiatives into corporate environments, some of that euphoric belief in the WWW disappeared. But after reading the possibilities posted by Christian and after our talk in which he put forward the extra’s a transparent use of existing data (both on regional, national and international level) could bring… I am again a radiant believer. He gave a wonderful and simple example to get people interested in their own social environment. What if we take the data from a specific part of a city and open this data up to the citizens, e.g. people could see where trash bins are located, light poles are implemented, benches are placed... if city council than wants to change the outlines of that specific areas, or do something to create a better living space for all its citizens in that location, it could show the citizens what is already there, and ask them how they think their living area could be improved. I agree that a lot of debate could come from this, but coming to a consensus as a group can also adds to the social fabric of a region. All this data is already available, but in many occasions very little is done with it.

Christian Kreutz blogs qualitatively, which makes his blog a gem, check it out. He is thinking about going fully into consulting, so if you feel the need for a very professional, citizen-oriented web-analysis-expert, send him a note.

If you know of any data being used to make society more transparent, let me know, I would love to get more ideas.