Three Books And A Webinar

I’ve been asked about books I’ve written part of or have a relationship to.  Since we’re in the relative quiet time of summer, I’m using this post to respond.

First, before this year, I wrote a chapter on “A New Kind Of Public Square For Urban America: How Sub-National Government Will Be Impacted In A Hybrid Physical-Virtual World Of Ubiquitous Communications”.  It appears in Transforming American Governance: Rebooting the Public Square (Transformational Trends in Governance and Democracy) .

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More recently published, in March 2014, was the compilation of essays, titled Smart Cities for a Bright Sustainable Future - A Global Perspective .  The chapter I wrote focuses on “Beyond Smarter City Infrastructure – The New Urban Experience”.

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As Senior Fellow at the Intelligent Community Forum, I’m also pleased to see the three co-founders of ICF write a new book in April 2014, titled Brain Gain: How innovative cities create job growth in an age of disruption .  You can learn more about the book and the ideas in it at www.BrainGainBook.com .

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Obviously, these books have a focus on big urban centers.  But they have implications for smaller communities as well.  For a flavor of that, you might want to register for Public Sector Digest’s webinar on “Small Communities, Intelligent Communities”.  It will be held today, July 23, 2014 from 1:00 PM EDT to 2:00 PM EDT.

© 2014 Norman Jacknis

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Online Collaboration Upending Old Ways?

This post is about some of the more interesting and unusual news items that provide continuing evidence of the way that online collaboration is upending old ways of doing things in several domains. 

In the past, we’ve depended upon social and behavioral scientists, news media, and other authoritative figures to assess our collective emotional state.  Now there’s the WeFeel project of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).  As CSIRO describes it:

We Feel is a project that explores whether social media—specifically Twitter—can provide an accurate, real-time signal of the world’s emotional state. 

Hundreds of millions of tweets are posted every day. … We Feel is about tapping that signal to better understand the prevalence and drivers of emotions. We hope it can uncover, for example, where people are most at risk of depression and how the mood and emotions of an area/region fluctuate over time. It could also help understand questions such as how strongly our emotions depend on social, economic and environmental factors such as the weather, time of day, day of the week, news of a major disaster or a downturn in the economy.

Another domain which has more obviously been dominated by experts is medicine.  While many hospitals and physicians are still working out their systems for electronic health records and billing in a changed insurance environment, patients are not waiting.  Nor are various businesses – as we are already seeing an onslaught of wearable devices to help people track health from both large established companies and startups.

Going beyond health tracking to health management and finding a way to bring in medical expertise when it’s really needed is the next step, although not a simple matter.  But uMotif is tackling the issue.  As they say:

Health systems across the world are under increasing pressure. The demands are rising, but resources often can’t keep pace. One way to help relieve the pressure is for people to engage more in their own health. Taking greater control, ownership and responsibility for keeping well.

[uMotif offers] Software for health self-management and shared decision making, supporting patients and clinicians; strengthening relationships; improving healthcare.

And then there’s the Longitude Prize, which was created in the 18th century by the British government.  The winner had to create a workable way to determine a ship’s longitude. 

In a sequel to that original prize, there is now in the UK a new Longitude Prize 2014.  But instead of an official body determining the topic, this being the 21st century, the Longitude Committee used crowdsourcing and asked the public to submit ideas. 

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The public’s choice of a new challenge?

“In order to tackle growing levels of antimicrobial resistance, the challenge set for the Longitude Prize is to create a cost-effective, accurate, rapid and easy-to-use test for bacterial infections that will allow health professionals worldwide to administer the right antibiotics at the right time.

Reading this, many observers might make the traditional assumption that the challenge aims to encourage heavy thinking by experts in biology, disease, DNA and the like.   But the Longitude Committee states right up front on their website:

Now that the antibiotics challenge has been chosen, we want everyone, from amateur scientists to the professional scientific community, to try and solve it. 

Nesta [the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts in the UK] and the Longitude Committee are finalising the criteria for how to win the £10 million prize, and from the autumn you will be able to submit your entries.

I’ve previously described the success that Zooniverse has had in amateur science, but the Longitude Committee has upped the ante considerably by offering such a large prize.  Good luck to all my readers!

© 2014 Norman Jacknis

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New Worldwide Robot Adventures

It’s summer and time to catch up on some interesting tech news.  This post is about robots going beyond their use in warehouses, factories or even as personal assistants – indeed, it’s about robots outdoors.

On the farm, in Australia, there’s the robotic LadyBird which

“was designed and built specifically for the vegetable industry with the aim of creating a ground robot with supporting intelligent software and the capability to conduct autonomous farm surveillance, mapping, classification, and detection for a variety of different vegetables.”

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You can find out more at http://sydney.edu.au/news/84.html?newscategoryid=2&newsstoryid=13686, which also lets you know that its developer, University of Sydney robotics Professor Salah Sukkarieh, was named last month as the “Researcher of the Year” by the Australian Vegetable Industry association.

From robots working hard in the fields, let’s go to robots having some fun on the road — HitchBot, which is the invention of two Canadian computer scientists.  HitchBot plans to hitch rides across Canada this summer. 

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As HitchBot says on its website:

“I am hitchBOT — a robot from Port Credit, Ontario.

“This summer I will be traveling across Canada, from coast-to-coast. I am hoping to make new friends, have interesting conversations, and see new places along the way. As you may have guessed robots cannot get driver’s licenses yet, so I’ll be hitchhiking my entire way. I have been planning my trip with the help of my big family of researchers in Toronto. I will be making my way from the east coast to the west coast starting in July.

“As I love meeting people and hearing stories, I invite you to follow my journey and share your hitchhiking stories with me as well. If you see me by the side of the road, pick me up and help me make my way across the country!”

Going from the ground to the air, in the realm of semi-robotic flight, otherwise known as drones, there’s a new one that reminds me of Star Wars Flying Speeder Bike – without the pilot.  One article describes this new drone from Switzerland as:

“an autonomous drone in a fully immersive rollcage that keeps it protected from whatever it might fly into — in this case, trees, but the robust safety of the thing means it might soon be perfectly applicable for combing disaster areas or any other tight spaces.”

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Also from the end of last year, another drone was featured in a New Scientist article titled “Spider-drones weave high-rise structures out of cables”.  This one was also developed in Switzerland at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich.

As the article notes:

The drones could make building much easier, says roboticist Koushil Sreenath at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “You just program the structure you want, press play and when you come back your structure is done,” he says. “Our current construction is limited, but with aerial robots those limitations go away.”

And these are just a few of the examples of robotics changing how we will get things done outdoors around the globe.

© 2014 Norman Jacknis

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Keeping Citizen Engagement Engaging

Starting at the national level with the Obama Administration’s open government initiative in 2009, there have been many attempts at crowdsourcing in various governments and public agencies.  

From his campaign, President Obama realized that we can now scale up collaboration and participation – and create a 21st century version of the old New England Town Meetings that, while not perfect, did a pretty good job of engaging residents.

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Unfortunately many of these efforts have been disappointing in various ways:

  • Fewer people participated than expected.
  • The forum was “hijacked by fringe groups” – this was one criticism of the early Obama open government efforts because decriminalizing Marijuana turned out to be one of the more popular proposals.  (But see my earlier post “Do Good Ideas Bubble Up From The Crowd?”)
  • The site went stale, with early excitement evaporating and participation going to zero.  As an example, see the Texas Red Tape Challenge.
  • Citizens were encouraged to participate and did so, only to find that their ideas were disregarded by public officials, which only increased the frustration among both citizen and officials.

Nevertheless, when they succeed, citizen engagements can satisfy several public purposes.  They are a great way to get help and new ideas, test proposals, understand priorities of voters and educate citizens about the complexities and realities of governing.  Moreover, in response to the general decline in respect for major public, nonprofit and private institutions, crowdsourcing is a way of earning back respect and trust — and convincing a skeptical public that public officials really care.  All of these benefits make it easier for public officials to govern better.

And the successes have provided important lessons.  Most important, like lots of other things, crowdsourcing requires some thought before implementation.  

You won’t get the best results if you take a “just build it and they will come” approach.  At the other extreme, you can bury any government initiative in “analysis paralysis”.   A reasonable balance is to plan how public officials will:

  • Set realistic expectations within their own organization as well as with the public;
  • Target the appropriate audience for the discussion;
  • Set up the topic/question in a clear, unbiased way;
  • Start the conversation with citizens;
  • Figure out how to manage the conversation and keep citizens engaged; and last but not least,  
  • End the engagement in a way that provides a positive experience for citizens and the government.

When these engagements actually engage citizens, they help redefine the relationship between public officials and the people they serve.  And they can provide a core of solid support from the public that any public official would desire – the kind of support that will carry officials through those bad times when they also make mistakes.

More later.

[photo credit: http://community.weber.edu/WeberReads/meeting_21922_md.gif]

© 2014 Norman Jacknis

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The Internet versus The Nation-State?

I’ve been reading two books that haven’t usually been mentioned together.  The authors – one pair from and heavily influenced by the tech industry – and the other from the foreign policy establishment end up taking positions that are somewhat opposite to where they would be expected.

Together the two books lay out a debate as to whether the Internet will have only a surface effect on government or be part of a fundamental change.

Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google, and Jared Cohen, former member of the US Department of State’s Policy Planning Staff wrote “The New Digital Age: Transforming Nations, Businesses, and Our Lives”.

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Despite its futuristic vision in parts, the book’s concept of government seems mostly to be stuck in the present, perhaps even the past.  The authors’ view is that the Internet is “just a tool” that will be used by the nation-state and citizens to interact in much the way they have done so in the past couple hundred years – since the idea of a nation-state began to form.  Their chapter on revolutions even has the dynamics of protest and revolution following old rules, with the Internet playing a supporting role.

But new tools are not always merely new means to old ends.  They change things in fundamental ways.  Consider the impact of tool making and tools on the evolution of the human species.  Or, remember the succinct statement about television a couple decades ago by Marshall McLuhan: “the medium is the message.”

And then there’s Moisés Naim, former Foreign Policy editor and Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who wrote “The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being In Charge Isn’t What It Used to Be”.

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He writes:

“We know that power is shifting from brawn to brains, from north to south and west to east, from old corporate behemoths to agile start-ups, from entrenched dictators to people in town squares and cyberspace.  But to say that … is not enough.  Power is undergoing a far more fundamental mutation … Even as rival states, companies, political parties, social movements, and institutions or individual leaders fight for power as they have done throughout the ages, power itself — what they are fighting so desperately to get and keep — is slipping away.

“Power is decaying.

“To put it simply, power no longer buys as much as it did in the past. In the twenty-first century, power is easier to get, harder to use — and easier to lose…

“The decay of power is changing the world.”

Naim’s book makes a persuasive case that the Internet, along with other major factors, is fundamentally reducing the power of the nation-state and other centuries-old institutions.  The tools are diminishing and modifying the nation-states, not merely being added to their arsenal.

©2014 Norman Jacknis

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Only One Way To Get Broadband?

For the first time ever, there was a Master Class focused on rural communities held two weeks ago as part of the annual summit of the Intelligent Community Forum.  There were people from Europe, the USA and Canada, Asia and as far away as New Zealand in the class.

Part of the focus of the class was on how rural areas can get broadband.  Too often there is the assumption that broadband and fiber optics are the same thing. 

One of my former colleagues used to describe the passion of some broadband advocates for fiber connections as a kind of “Fiber Taliban”.  But while fiber makes economic sense in densely populated urban areas, it becomes very expensive to deploy in the countryside.  As a practical matter, exclusive use of fiber is a dream that stands in the way of getting broadband to the countryside.  This may be one situation where, as the old line goes, “the perfect is the enemy of the good.”

In the class, I pointed out that just as there isn’t only one way for a person to get from Point A to Point B, there isn’t only one way for a person to get broadband. 

Like many people, I used to think that the laws of physics provide a natural cap on the amount of data that can go through the air.  And, in a theoretical sense, that is still true.  But the engineers have nevertheless made dramatic improvements. 

Verizon Wireless, for example, now usually range of 10-20 MB, although in NYC, it’s been independently measured above 30.  Its 4G is, according to Verizon, ten times the speed of 3G.

A couple of weeks ago, Huawei promised more.

Huawei Technologies officials say the giant tech vendor has successfully tested a WiFi service that hit more than 10 gigabits per second, a speed that is 10 times faster than what is currently commercially available.

There are a variety of ways that data can travel over the air.  The most well-established, alternatives include satellite, Wi-Fi and standard fixed wireless.  Free space optics, pictured below, offers a large pipe that can be especially useful for rugged territory. 

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Also of interest is the future use of “white space” as television goes digital.

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And balloons, which act as flexible and inexpensive towers.  Google has proposed balloons at high altitudes.  But even below the aviation floor of 500 feet, balloons can provide coverage over a wide swath of countryside.

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The Internet protocol doesn’t care what the communications medium is, so you can combine different methods to provide broadband to different kinds of places

By the way, there is also a lesson here in another important aspect of deploying broadband into the countryside – funding it.  The most successful broadband projects have usually combined more than one purpose:

  • High speed communications
  • Healthcare
  • Education and libraries
  • Business development
  • Smart grid and management of other infrastructure
  • Etc.

This combination opens up more sources of funds and means more people have a reason to use the broadband, thus making the project successful and sustainable.

This is a natural approach in really remote places.  A couple of the folks in the class came from Wanganui in New Zealand.  That town’s Mayor described their bottom up approach in which each farmer extends the network further into the countryside.  And, if you’re thinking this is just some semi-rural, small town place, look at this picture of what their broadband project eventually has to cover.

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Pictures via:

©2014 Norman Jacknis

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Accelerating Internet Activism?

Last week I was at the Personal Democracy Forum (PDF), the annual gathering of technologists, political activists, entrepreneurs and many others focused on the ways that the Internet is playing a role in government and society.  As it does every year, PDF had an interesting and thought provoking range of speakers and panels.  The event was inspiring both in the activities of many of these individuals and the sheer creative ambition that drives them.

With more than 140 speakers in both plenary sessions and breakouts, it is not physically possible to hear everyone.  But something was bothering me in many of these sessions I did attend.

It was brought home by Anthea Watson Strong’s reference to the Calculus of Voting written many years ago by the political scientists William Riker and Peter Ordeshook.  This was a relatively rare moment in which someone explicitly or implicitly referred back to previous research and analysis of political behavior.

And in a breakout session, Ben Berkowitz, the founder/CEO of the very useful and successful SeeClickFix, rightly expressed concerns about the focus of many activists on just the next election.  He asked for a new approach – a consistent effort, an organization, that helps people with the daily public issues and annoyances that bother them.  

I told him that there used to be organizations that did just that — the old urban political machines.  They were building long term supporters for a party, so their timeframe was more than just the next election campaign of one politician.  While they helped people with their problems, of course, the old machines were also corrupt.  A modern more ethical version may be what he’s looking for.  Not a new idea, just a better one.  (For a recent assessment of the political machines of the 19th and early 20th centuries, see Terry Golway’s book “Machine Made: Tammany Hall and the Creation of Modern American Politics”.)

This was one of several examples in which more historical context would have been helpful.

Perhaps it was entrepreneurial enthusiasm to push ahead and not look back.  Perhaps it was a matter of being so convinced that what you’re doing is so new, no one before you could have something of value to contribute to your thought process.  (I have to admit that this is something I’ve also been guilty of myself in some of my entrepreneurial enthusiasms.)

Newton famously said: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”   In the world of political technology this means understanding previous political thought and analysis, history and modern research on political behavior. 

Most people in the audience were excited by the possibilities for true democratic governance that the Internet and related tools make possible, including me.  But to accelerate this movement there needs to be more context and deeper knowledge on the part of the creators and activists. 

Otherwise, we end up becoming another example of the old story about reinventing the wheel.  Not only is that wasted effort, but, without learning, each new reinvention of the wheel seems to start out as immature as the last one.  In turn, that immaturity and lack of progress may dampen the potential engagement of the larger number of potential citizen activists which the PDF movement will need.

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© 2014 Norman Jacknis

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Crowdsourcing For Legislators?

[This blog is a slightly early contribution to the dialog of the annual Personal Democracy Forum to be held tomorrow, June 5, 2014, in New York City.  See http://personaldemocracy.com/conferences/nyc/2014 .]

In a previous post, “Is The Voice A Model For Crowdsourcing?”, I noted that crowdsourcing can be a modern manifestation of the civic involvement that is the foundation of successful democracies – by providing public officials a good sense of the priorities of citizens, in addition to giving them new ideas.

When he took office in 2009, President Obama made crowdsourcing a key element of his open government initiative, using the IdeaScale platform.  So did other elected officials in national and sub-national governments around the world. 

In some respects, it is surprising that public officials with executive responsibilities have taken to crowdsourcing more than those in legislative positions.  Most legislative bodies in democracies have encouraged petitions and testimony from the public as they consider new laws.  The National Conference of State Legislatures of the USA prominently features the importance of citizen engagement, mostly focused on ways this has happened for decades.

So, in the Internet age, crowdsourcing would seem to be a natural extension of that traditional pattern.  But that’s happening slowly.

I would expect this to pick up as legislators realize it is in their professional interest to better engage with their constituents.  That engagement helps to even the playing field in the frequent contests between legislators and public executives – a situation where most voters have much less awareness of their legislators than of the executives and so can provide less support for the legislative side.

There are two interested examples of crowdsourcing in the legislative arena.

Last year, the Ministry of Environment in Finland used crowdsourcing to draft a new law on off-road traffic, a subject with conflicting public priorities so it was good to encourage wider involvement in the debate than would normally occur.

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A GovLab report, at the end of last year, noted these ways in which this was a positive experiment:

  • Almost all the comments were constructive, with a very small percentage weeded out.
  • Participants as a group were realistic about their expectations and the fact that their input would need to be refined.
  • The participants learned from each other which helped to elevate the level of the debate and presumably made it easier for the government to arrive at a reasonable compromise.
  • The “crowd preferred commonsensical and nuanced ideas, while rejecting vague and extreme ones”

Clearly the experience of the Finnish would indicate that some of the fears public officials have had about crowdsourcing haven’t come about.  The public is trying to participate as reasonable adults in a governmental process; they’re not attacking officials with their “virtual pitchforks”.

Earlier this year, in what he said was a first for the USA, California Assemblyman Mike Gatto of Los Angeles did the same for a proposed new probate law.  The number of people who took advantage of the opportunity was relatively small, not surprising considering that probate law is perhaps not the most exciting topic for most people.  Nevertheless, he plans to shepherd the ideas from the crowd through the legislative process as part of a larger effort to modernize the way that citizens interact with government.

As crowdsourcing in legislation – both big and small – continues to develop a good track record, I would expect to see many more legislators and legislative bodies begin to use the modern tools for gathering ideas and priorities from the public.

©2014 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/87794829020/crowdsourcing-for-legislators]

Too Many Metrics?

The New York Times Sunday Style Section – of all places – recently contained a report, titled “The United States of Metrics”, about how every area of life now is dominated by numbers and statistics.  As its author, Bruce Feiler, put it:

In the last few years, there has been a revolution so profound that it’s sometimes hard to miss its significance. We are awash in numbers. Data is everywhere. Old-fashioned things like words are in retreat; numbers are on the rise. Unquantifiable arenas like history, literature, religion and the arts are receding from public life, replaced by technology, statistics, science and math. Even the most elemental form of communication, the story, is being pushed aside by the list.

After reviewing the use of analytics in fields as diverse as sports, health, lifestyle, etc., Feiler ends the story with Einstein’s time-worn warning, “Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted.”

A couple of months ago, Zachary Karabell’s book, titled “The Leading Indicators: A Short History of the Numbers That Rule Our World”, was published.  Karabell goes into this subject in much more depth and with a lot more historical context. 

(By the way, Karabell is a lively writer and brings all this to life in a more engaging way than the average reader would expect of a book about economic statistics.)

Despite their prominent role in politics and business planning, he notes that the statistics we all hear reported about — GDP, trade deficits, unemployment rates, etc. — are misleading, inaccurate to varying degrees and mostly fairly new.  Nevertheless many are already outdated by changes in the economy and the ways that people make a living.

He discusses various ways that these economic statistics can be updated.  However, he also points out that no single measure alone will be able to provide a good picture of something as large and complex as a national and changing economy.  So maybe we need more metrics to round out the picture.

Karabell thinks the metrics are good and useful, but that we need to be more sophisticated in our handling of them.

That’s something that makes sense.  In a world that increasingly needs and demands the kind of data-driven knowledge that all these measurements can provide, our understanding and literacy in using quantitative methods also needs to improve.

In a way, this is not all that different from the argument that is made by those in the visual arts, who also call for more visual literacy in a world that is also increasingly visual, rather than textual.  See my post “Visual Images And Text” from about a year ago at http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/60268577982/visual-images-and-text .

(Come to think of it, these last two paragraphs do pose an ironic challenge to a blogger who writes using words — as traditional text gets diminished in a world of numbers and images :-)

©2014 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/87101098190/too-many-metrics]

What Is The Role Of Libraries In Open Government?

Earlier this month, I was invited to participate in a workgroup that focused on and merged two of my strongest interests – libraries and open government.  This workgroup, made up of approximately two dozen leaders of the worlds of libraries, open government and the Internet, was pulled together by the Center for Technology in Government (CTG) of Albany University, as part of a project funded by the Federal Government’s Institute of Museums and Library Services (IMLS).

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CTG describes the rationale for the project this way:

"State and local governments are exploring new ways to open their governments using technology to engage citizens, increase transparency and accountability. Such efforts provide new opportunities and challenges for public libraries as citizens turn to them for both access to and assistance in their interactions with government … An open government initiative will impact and can be facilitated or impeded by a community’s information ecosystem. Libraries can have a critical influence on an ecosystem and the success of such an initiative."

The CTG staff will summarize the day and a half of intensive work at a later point.  But I thought I’d share some of my observations from participating in it.

First, while open government, particularly the open data initiatives that have occurred all over the US and elsewhere, is clearly a step forward for transparency, it is not always very useful to the average citizen.  That’s why too often, the data has been used mostly for “gotcha” articles by local news media. 

Typically, the data is put out on the web.  This is akin to setting up a library by buying 10,000 books and dropping them all in a big pile in the middle of the floor.  Librarians have long developed skills in organizing knowledge and, as reference guides, in helping people find what they need.  So the most obvious first role of librarians is to help open data initiatives succeed by applying their professional skills to the data.

Second, libraries can be the place where open government occurs.  This role not only involves making available to citizens the printed and online forms they need to interact with government – or even extending that to enable citizens to have video conversations with government staff who are located many miles away from home.

Libraries can also encourage the discussion of public issues.  Traditionally, libraries have used their meeting spaces for open forums.  More recently and much more interesting is the role the Los Angeles Public Library has played in a community in south Los Angeles.  The local library branch there is hosting Betaville, open source software to enable people to collaborate together to propose urban design solutions for their community.  Betaville is being used for people to do exactly that with respect to a large proposed redevelopment of the Rancho Cienega facility.  The library was the only place where people could come together to do this work, which had the proper technology and also the trust of residents that it is an objective, open facility.

Third, Jamie LaRue, former director of the Douglas County library system, which has been a pioneer in libraries as creators of content, built on that experience to propose an additional role for libraries.  In the face of the demise of many local news outlets, he suggested that this creative role of libraries be extended to becoming the platform for local news.

Finally, while a number of state and local governments have encouraged their local software developers to create apps using open government data, this is clearly not enough.  There are many apps that are needed, but make no sense for private companies that ultimately require profits.  Government cannot abdicate its own technology role.  Recognizing that it can’t do everything, however, government can call on librarians to understand what gaps exist based on what they are asked for by library patrons.

For more information, see CTG’s website at http://www.ctg.albany.edu/projects/imls .  They have also posted a concept paper at http://imls.ctg.albany.edu/book/enabling-open-government-all-planning-framework-public-libraries .  If you’d like to participate in the discussion about libraries and open government, you can do that at http://imls.ctg.albany.edu/forums/online-discussion-concept-paper

© 2014 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/86405556739/what-is-the-role-of-libraries-in-open-government]

How Can Libraries Respond To Technology Trends?

On May 3, the Library Trustee Association of New York State held its annual trustee institute.  I ran a session on the intersection of technology trends and changes in libraries.  I made a presentation, titled “Creating The Library’s Future”, to get people to start thinking about this intersection.

While there is always change in information technology, I chose to highlight these clusters of trends as being most relevant to the mission of libraries.  Here’s a quick summary:

  1. Digitization Of Written, Oral and Visual Materials: the worldwide effort to digitize paper documents as well as the increase in media that are born digital; the budding Digital Public Library of America; the end of the self-contained book which makes possible an infinite variety of mashups; the various ways that “big data” in libraries can be used
  2. Artificial Intelligence & Robotics: such applications as speech recognition, the Army’s artificially intelligent guide and its implications for Ask A Librarian; robotics, especially in warehouses that have implications for larger libraries
  3. High Quality Visual Communications: noting the importance of non-verbal communications and how we are not yet at a stage where this is a ubiquitous aspect of the Internet, but it will be; the extension with videoconferencing of the groups, literacy training, public services that libraries have always provided
  4. Ubiquitous Internet: the various ways that access to the Internet is escaping the limitations of the traditional PC display/keyboard/mouse where any surface can be a display or a keyboard or a mouse or you don’t even need a surface at all with arm movements or eye tracking; augmented reality
  5. Billions Of People Who Produce And Consume Content: the concepts of the “Pro-Sumer” and the long tail; the ways that this is opening up opportunities for authors and content creators that are not limited to the traditional publishers; the role of readers and library patrons in enhancing the traditional hierarchical catalog; the various forms of user involvement and creation at libraries in the US and abroad, including 3D printing and entrepreneurial spaces

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Then I shifted to thinking about libraries in this future world.  I noted the warnings have been around for a long time, with a quote about the Internet’s impact almost twenty years ago.  I asked about a series of websites that seem to offer services which librarians have defined as their role.

All of this requires librarians to enhance that role to keep ahead of what are now commodity services and to think about library services as pervasive throughout the community – not confined to what goes on in the library building or even what is local.

Then taking a World Café approach, we broke up into groups focused on three questions:

  • How will technology change the expectations of patrons?
  • How could/should future technology trends affect the way individual libraries budget and spend their money?
  • What are the organizational implications of changing technology? (including the role of the individual libraries vs. the systems vs. the RRRs vs. the State vs. the national networks)

Here are some of the possibly contradictory highlights from the discussion that followed:

  • Expectations of patrons are rising because of what they exposed to, outside the library — at work and at home.
  • Libraries as often lead patrons to new technologies and uses of tech, rather than the other way around
  • Budgets need to shift, setting a minimum percentage for digital collections and providing staff training.
  • As library activities become more varied, there may need to be more private spaces for music, videoconferencing, etc.
  • The availability of resources directly from the Internet is upsetting the traditional hierarchy of the library world.  So individual libraries may see alternatives to the cooperative systems or the State librarians that used to be the primary suppliers of technology.

© 2014 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/85721053189/how-can-libraries-respond-to-technology-trends]

Is The Voice A Model For Crowdsourcing?

Crowdsourcing — using the wisdom of the crowd on the Internet — has been especially intriguing to public officials. It gives them access to new ideas as well as an assessment of the popularity of those ideas. 

Of course, not all of these crowdsourcing projects have worked so well. 

In many cases, these efforts have failed to meet the criteria that James Surowiecki identified in his book, “The Wisdom of the Crowds”.  Among other factors, he pointed out that the crowd’s assessment is most useful when they have a great variety of viewpoints based on diverse experience and their judgments are independent of each other.  It has been too often the case in public sector crowdsourcing that these criteria are not satisfied.

There has often been a sense by the public that their suggestions get lost and are no one pays attention to them, which leads to low participation.  For their side, the professional staff ask “where do we come in?”  Is there no role for expertise anymore?

The very popular and Emmy-award winning reality TV series, “The Voice”, may provide a model.  The show is intended to identify new singing talent. 

The Voice starts with open auditions in many cities, much like crowdsourcing sites are open to anyone to propose an idea.  Then in the winnowing process, the professionals enter the picture.

At the beginning of the televised season, professional and well-known singers select candidates for their team.  So they act as a filter.  This, in a sense, parallels the selection of the public’s ideas that professional staff in government decide they will actually consider.

Then the professional singers do something else – they provide mentoring, advice and training to the candidates on their team.  So far as I know, I haven’t seen anything like this in the government or corporate use of crowdsourcing, but it is something they should be doing in order to refine and improve on ideas that arise from the public.

After a few additional trials of their talent, the professional singers select a final set candidates.  At that point, the public re-enters the picture.  (And the Voice does seem to follow the characteristics of successful crowdsourcing that Surowiecki found.)  

Over the rest of the series, it is the votes of the public which determine ultimately who walks away with the number one position and the prized recording contract. In a twist on the usual way people vote, The Voice allows multiple voting – a measure of intensity of support, which also parallels many political situations where intensity is as important as the raw numbers.

While the producers of the show likely do this to enhance their ratings and the public’s involvement with the show, there is a lesson here as well for public officials.  While these officials may sometimes dismiss the public’s ideas as misguided, that easy dismissal or failure to follow up on public suggestions only serves to increase the cynicism of voters about the government.

Instead, perhaps like The Voice, after initial rounds of public suggestions, the experts in government could work with the most best ideas to hone them and then present those back to the public to identify which they like the most.  This provides the experts a meaningful role in the process and it also brings in the public in what is the ultimate step in a democratic decision process – the priorities of the citizens.

This final step would certainly lessen the cynicism that has accompanied government crowdsourcing efforts in the past and increase participation in those efforts, which would only help to make them even better.

©2014 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/]

Moving To A National Digital Library?

In a post last year, http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/66967472797/a-national-future-for-libraries , I discussed the increasing volume of digital text, video and audio, produced by millions more writers and artists than have been supported by the big publishing and media corporations in the past.  These trends have important implications for libraries, especially the need to offer library patrons a national collection and reference to materials located anywhere.  That’s why I titled the post “A National Future For Libraries”.

So it was great that the US Government’s Institute of Museums and Library Services (IMLS) conducted their “Strategic Priorities 2014” conference with a focus on a National Digital Platform. 

image

The meeting, held at the main building of the New York Public Library on Tuesday this week, featured most of the key leaders in the world of libraries and other non-profit cultural and information organizations as you can see below.

Jason Kucsma, ‎Executive Director of the Metropolitan New York Library Council, was one of the speakers – a nice recognition for the innovative work that METRO is doing under his leadership and METRO’s role as the New York State hub for the Digital Public Library of America.  (Note: I’m President of the board, but Jason and the staff of METRO actually do the work.)

It was very encouraging to see these leaders working together with a generally positive frame of mind, trying to figure out how to create and, more important, sustain a national digital library.  There’s clearly lots of work ahead of us – including much more than the usual community of librarians – but this was a good start.

You can see the conference video at http://www.tvworldwide.com/events/imls/140429/.  Since it was a whole day event, I’ve put the agenda below so you can watch particular sections.

Welcome and Framing the Day

Anthony Marx, President and CEO, New York Public Library — @NYPL

Maura Marx, Deputy Director for Libraries, IMLS — @mauramarx / @US_IMLS

Play Flash Video


INFRASTRUCTURE: Examining the Hubs Model

Moderated by:
Jim Neal, VP for Information Services and University Librarian, Columbia University, @columbialib

Panel:
Dan Cohen, Executive Director, Digital Public Library of America — @dancohen / @dpla

Brett Bobley, Chief Information Officer, National Endowment for the Humanities — @brettbobley / @NEH_ODH

Elliott Shore, Executive Director, Association of Research Libraries — @ARLnews

Play Flash Video


CONTENT: Beyond the low hanging fruit: Strategies on Providing Access to Complicated Content

Moderated by
Rachel Frick, Director, Digital Library Federation — @RLFrick / @CLIRDLF

Panel:
Sari Feldman, Executive Director, Cuyahoga County Public Libraries — @Sari_Feldman / @CuyahogaLib

Katherine Skinner, Executive Director, Educopia Institute — @Educopia

Clifford Lynch, Director, Coalition for Networked Information — @CNI_org

Play Flash Video


USE: Challenges and Opportunities to Broad Use of Digital Content

Moderated by:
Susan Hildreth, Director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services — @IMLSDirector / @US_IMLS

Panel:
Susan Gibbons, University Librarian, Yale University — @YaleLibrary

Bernie Margolis, New York State Librarian and Assistant Commissioner for Libraries

Play Flash Video


TOOLS: Encouraging Innovation

Moderated by:
Mary Lee Kennedy, Chief Library Officer, New York Public Library — @NYPL

Panel:
Ben Vershbow, Manager, NYPL Labs — @subsublibrary / @NYPL_Labs

Martin Kalfatovic, Associate Director Smithsonian Libraries, Program Director BHL — @UDCMRK / @SILibraries

Tom Scheinfeldt , Associate Professor of Digital Media / Director of Digital Humanities at University of Connecticut — @foundhistory / @UConn

Play Flash Video


ACCESS AT SCALE

Moderated by:
Josh Greenberg, Program Director for Digital Information Technology, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation — @epistemographer / @SloanFoundation

Panel:
MacKenzie Smith, University Librarian, University of California at Davis

Jason Kucsma, ?Executive Director at Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO) — @J450NK / @mnylc

Dan Chudnov, Director, Scholarly Technology, George Washington University Libraries — @dchud / @gelmanlibrary

Play Flash Video


SKILLS

Moderated by:
Bob Horton, Associate Deputy Director for Library Services, IMLS — @US_IMLS

Panel:
Nancy McGovern , Head, Curation and Preservation Services, MIT Libraries — @mitlibraries

Jack Martin, Executive Director, Providence Public Library — @provlib

Play Flash Video


CONCLUSION AND CLOSING DISCUSSION

Maura Marx, Susan Hildreth and Bob Horton — @mauramarx, @IMLSDirector / @US_IMLS

Play Flash Video

©2014 Norman Jacknis

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/84466500047/moving-to-a-national-digital-library]

What Were They Thinking?

I learn of interesting new technologies and products every day.  Because a successful business reflects more than the value of its products, most of these won’t be big hits even if they are really good ideas – and many are really interesting technologies.

But then there are others which remind me that not every technology advance makes sense.  Some indeed raise that old question – what were they thinking?  I’m sure I’m going to get complaints about pointing out some of these items, so I’ll apologize ahead of time that maybe I’m just missing the genius of these ideas :-)

The government of the United Arab Emirates has decided to adapt one of the ideas proposed by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.  See the Reuters story at http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/10/us-emirates-drones-idUSBREA1906E20140210  The UAE too would use a very modern technology – unmanned drones.  But instead of delivering products, they would deliver paperwork to their citizens.  The technology also uses sophisticated fingerprint and facial recognition.  Perhaps they haven’t heard of a different technology that eliminates the need for the paperwork to begin with – ah, the Internet?

Then there’s this concept that is the merger of the much heralded Internet of Things and wearable clothing – the bra that cannot be unhooked without “true love”.   While the Japanese clothing company responsible for this idea only created it as a celebration of their anniversary (https://www.ravijour.com/anniversary/moodup) you can see they do take it seriously in this video at http://youtu.be/B8Wd831gUt4  .  I’m not sure anyone else would trust or try to use this particular application of the latest tech.

There have been a few recent experiments in making music in non-traditional ways.  (I’ll have more on that in a future blog post.)  But one of those experiments that belongs here perhaps is Lickestra.  As you can see at http://www.emiliebaltz.com/2014/01/lickestra/ , people generate musical sounds by licking ice cream.  Obviously this is not for concert length pieces.

And so it goes on the far edges of the technology world … more to come, I’m sure.

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/83736814898/what-were-they-thinking]

The Telephone’s History & The Internet’s Future?

In my presentations, I have pointed out that the Internet is still very much in its early stages.  There are tremendous gaps in the availability of high speed, low latency Internet everywhere.  It will only be at some point in the future that we could truly expect to have a visual conversation with almost anyone, almost anywhere on the globe. 

Beyond expanding connectivity, there are other factors standing in the way of ubiquitous high quality visual communications.  First, the software – the interface that users have to deal with – is quite awkward.  Second, the mindset or culture of users seems not to have changed yet to readily accommodate visual conversations over the Internet everywhere.

Indeed, I use a rough parallel that we are today with the Internet about where we were with the telephone at the end of the 1920s.  That was more than fifty years after the telephone had been invented.  Of course, we’re not even fifty years into the life of the Internet.

While there were many articles written at the time about the impact of telephones on society, the economy and life, even in the 1920s (or 30s or 40s or 50s …) telephone usage was not taken for granted.  Among other things, long distance calling was not widely considered to be something most people would do.  Mobile telephony wasn’t anywhere close to existence.

The chart below shows the pattern of historical adoption of telephones in the US from 1876 until 1981. 

image

From the perspective of 1981, never mind 2014, the first fifty years of telephony were the early age. 

And since 1981?  We’ve seen mobile phones overtake land lines in worldwide usage and become much more than devices for just talking to people.

So imagine what the next 100 years of Internet development will bring.

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/82994025117/the-telephones-history-the-internets-future]

This blog explores the future of government, the economy, business and knowledge. It will be a combination of my own thinking and pointers to interesting stuff that I see. You can follow me (@NormanJacknis) on Twitter to learn when blogs are posted.

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