Governments and public bodies embracing “open data” as a tool for increasing citizen empowerment and participating. The discussion revolving around “Open data” indicates that new sources of socially relevant information emerge. In the triangle between data providers, users and service providers it is unlikely that case-by-case solutions will be the solution of the hour, it is in all probability that intermediaries will emerge and in fact traditional intermediaries like the media already start to occupy this field.
The draft paper
The workshop was based on a contribution by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Zarino Zappia (“Participation and Power: Intermediaries of Open Data”). In their paper, Viktor and Zarino showed how new intermediary players emerged in three exemplary fields where information flows had been redirected (e-rulemaking, open source software, blogosphere). From this, they derived the assumption, that – if open data initiatives are a form of redirection of information flows – comparable emergent intermediaries can be seen in this field, too. In the second part of the paper they try to validate their assumption on an empirical basis by conducting network analyses on open data app portals and qualitative interviews with developers.
During the workshop, Viktor and Zarino presented their findings alongside their paper. Based on the assumption that open data leads to the reconfiguration of information flows, Viktor showed in three examples to what extent this rerouting resulted in the emergence of new intermediaries: In e-rulemaking castes of lobbyists still dominate the rulemaking process, and yet the outcome has been successful, since at least a few reasonable comments from local/regional NGOs could be gained, providing input including valuable information having influence on the rulemaking outcome. In open source, the input is concentrated on a small number of participants, and yet the outcome has been improved due to some high quality input from those persons participating. As regards the blogosphere, there has been no mass movement of citizen engagement as citizen journalists and yet the outcome has been improved through better facts and more watchdogs. In all three examples, restructuring the information flows has led to changes in the value chains and shifts in information intermediaries. Zarino then showed, on the basis of network analysis and interviews, how intermediaries in the field of open data are structured, what networks they have and how they play a crucial role in advancing the field. 71 % of the examined 175 open data apps had only one developer. Some of the developers showed a high level of betweenness, i.e. are located between different open data communities; those are gatekeepers between otherwise unconnected open data communities and socially relevant data sets. However, Viktor and Zarino pointed out that we shouldn’t always be afraid of intermediaries: Centralization and interconnections can provide chances to nurture involvement.
Discussion & remarks
The discussion during the workshop brought up some remarks. We want to emphasize four of them:
Differentiation between access to and usage of open data
Open data can be seen as a revolution in the availability of structured, processable, and in many different contexts reusable data; open data intermediaries can give relevance and/or meaning to otherwise insurmountable data rows. Here, we strictly have to differentiate between open access to data sets on the one hand and effectively making use of such open data repositories on the other. The latter has implications for the educational system (“open data literacy”), as people need to have the necessary skills to manipulate data and to handle data sets.
Emergence and evolution patterns of open data intermediaries
It has become clear that current open data intermediaries often are former users of open data sets that are now intermediaries; sometimes, gatekeepers have just been the first movers in connecting communities and datasets, hence the motivation of intermediaries to become an intermediary is varying. The socio-political context is important, too, as policies behind open data and open data intermediaries have an impact on availability, usage and trust. Thirdly, we have to look into who is using open data and open data apps and why.
Forms and functions of intermediaries in open data
We need a map of current and future open data landscape to understand which forms of intermediaries are out there and which different functions the intermediaries undertake. Such a functional categorization, by the way, can be a starting point to understand the notion of intermediary in the first place. Here, again, socio-political contexts might have significant influence on possible functions of intermediaries. The question following such a typology would then be: Do different types of intermediaries lead to different outcomes? A comparative analysis of the role of intermediaries in open data compared to intermediaries in other areas could shed even more light on this research field.
Transparency as a trust-creating principle of open data intermediaries
Trust and transparency surely have been the keywords in the debate: The importance of transparency regarding both the data set provider as well as the intermediary is unquestioned: Where does data come from, how is it chosen and processed, what has happened along the way? Moreover, the general data quality and the possibilities to give feedback on accuracy or even correct it is another field that has to be taken care of. What could accountability mechanisms look like? These questions pertain even more for corporate generated “open” data in the future.