Paper on “Open Data and the Politics of Transparency” at European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) General Conference 2014, University of Glasgow

Last week I gave a paper on “Open Data and the Politics of Transparency” at the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) General Conference 2014 at the University of Glasgow.

The original abstract for the talk was as follows:

In just a few years, open data has been established as a fundamental cornerstone of official transparency and accountability initiatives around the world – from US President Barack Obama and UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s respective open government programmes, to the Open Government Partnership, to the G8 Open Data Charter launched in June 2013.

This paper will look at how open data initiatives are shaping the way that government and civil society actors think and talk about transparency – in particular examining at the political visions and theories of change which they promote. Through interviews with key actors and close readings of speeches, reports and other materials, it will look at how open data advocacy has contributed to a shift in official transparency discourse away from social justice and the needs of citizens, and towards technological innovation, public sector efficiency and economic growth.

In the paper I presented an overview of a proposed tripartite research programme for examining the politics of open data, which would include:

  • A genealogy of open data – looking at where the concept comes from, and the different contingent and contested political visions and values surrounding it;
  • A sociology of open data drawing on Actor-Network Theory – looking at how open data is being used by different actors in different contexts;
  • A theoretical reassessment of open data – looking at how it might fit into broader attempts to theorise about transparency, accountability, democracy, civil society and the state.

The paper given at the ECPR General Conference 2014 focused on the first part of this programme, indicating some potential threads to investigate further for a genealogy of open data. Such a genealogy would serve to illustrate that open data is not a free-floating, ahistorical concept, but a malleable idea whose meaning is continually reconfigured in response to shifting conceptions and practices of government, governance and democracy in different contexts.

The slides for the talk are available here, and a revised version of the full paper will be published in the coming months. If you’d like to read the current draft please do get in touch – feedback would be very warmly welcomed.

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