GovLab Blog

Event: A Digital Magna Carta – Internet Governance and a New Social Contract

Stefaan Verhulst, Co-founder and Chief Research and Development Officer at the Governance Lab, will participate in a panel today at New America NYC. The discussion will focus on the future of the Internet in an increasingly connected, globalized world. The event will be live streamed here and details are posted below.

A Digital Magna Carta : Internet Governance and a New Social Contract
Thursday, March 26, 2015
06:30 PM – 08:15 PM
199 Lafayette Street
Suite 3B New York, NY 10012
RSVP here

On the heels of the Congressional decision on net neutrality, the discussion around Internet governance is moving into a decisive phase. It’s clear that modern society should address some fundamental questions on the future development of technology and its impact of society, but many issues remain open and unresolved.
Many have suggested the adoption of a new “digital social contract,” with Tim Berners-Lee calling for a Digital Magna Carta. How can the globalization of ICANN be achieved? Can we strike the delicate balance between ongoing innovation for the Internet and the public interests of security?
As Geneva, Switzerland is becoming a global hub for Internet governance, New America NYC is thrilled to be joined by the Consulate General of Switzerland for a discussion on the future of the Internet in an increasingly connected, globalized world.
Follow the discussion online using #NANYC and by following @NewAmericaNYC and @SwissCGNY.

Dr. Jovan Kurbalija
Director, DiploFoundation
Author, Introduction to Internet Governance

Constance Bommelaer
Senior Director for Global Policy Partnerships, Internet Society
Olivier Sylvain
Associate Professor of Law, Fordham University

George Sadowsky
Member, Internet Governance Forum series
Member, Board of Directors, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)

Stefaan Verhulst
Co-founder and Chief Research and Development Officer, the Governance Lab


GovLab Blog

Small Data Metadata – a Founding Principle, not an Afterthought

Small data are the digital traces that individuals generate as a byproduct of daily activities, such as sending e-mail or exercising with fitness trackers. [source: Workshop on Small Data Experimentation, call for papers]

In this post, we advocate for the need to standardize metadata about small data and build tools to create, manage, process and reason about it. Not only is small data metadata critical to foster the small data ecosystem of consumers and producers, it is also essential to offer some necessary guarantees — like privacy — inherent to the data itself.

Engraving The Confusion of Tongues by Gustave Doré (1865)


The english dictionary defines an afterthought as “an item or thing that is thought of or added later”. The World Wide Web is full of such afterthoughts: privacy, security, content rating or structured data are just a few examples. The problem with afterthoughts is that you keep paying the price for them over and over again and need to build often expensive workarounds.

If we look at structured data on the Web, for every crawl, search engines need to re-extract structure from the raw HTML, structure that is often present on the publishing side but gets “lost in translation”. Standards try to avoid this. But a very limited — yet growing — set of pages support the standard. What if the standard had been baked into the HTML specification?

We see a similar pattern with open data. The lack of schemas to represent datasets ( Dataset, DCAT and DSPL), the lack of taxonomies to describe the nature of the data and the lack of unique identifiers have created situation where open data datasets are hard to find, hard to use and hard to combine, as described in [Barbosa et al. 2014]. Also, the lack of standards is a barrier to commercial offerings.

The case for small data metadata (SDMD)

Small data — very loosely defined — is still in its infancy, like the Web was circa 1996. More and more devices are being connected (Fitbit, Jawbone,Garmin, etc.) and now major phone manufacturers are embedding “small data” features in their offering like most recently Apple ResearchKit for medical research [Apple 2015]. The recently announced WhiteHousePrecision Medicine Initiative will also rely on personalized data being collected and shared.

Assuming small data gets a trajectory similar to the Web, we should expect lots of data to be shared by people (producers) and lots of data being consumed for experiments (by consumers).

End users will need to be able to respond to numerous sollicitations about sharing their data. We should not expect this to be done manually, but rather mediated by a computer agent.

Data collectors will need to find relevant users based on profiles, demographics, locations, etc. and describe to them clearly the kind of data they want to collect and for what purpose.

Experimenters will need to find relevant datasets with data collected according to their specifications.

And all interactions between these entities should provide support for privacy, trust, “commerce” in a broad sense, and automated reasoning. Such an ecosystem will require robust metadata capable of answering questions like:

  • [user] Is experiment X compatible with my privacy policy?
  • [user] Is the purpose of experiment X compatible with my values?
  • [data collector] Find users who are a married couple with two kids in region X?
  • [experimenter] Find the best datasets for experiment X given a budget and a purpose?

Small data metadata (SDMD) is organized around schemas, taxonomiesand unique identifier schemes. Rather than reinventing the wheel, we should build upon existing standards. Schemas most likely will extendDCAT (with concepts such as DataSet, Catalogue and Distribution; seeoverview) or DataSet. For taxonomies, we can leverage W3C Simple Knowledge Organization System (SKOS) or W3C OWL for if more advanced reasoning is needed. For identifiers we can of reuse W3C Universal Resource Identifiers (URI). Some sectors have already started to work on this issue, e.g. Open mHealth for health data.

SDMD will be able to reuse tools that are applicable to generic datasets. But it will also require some domain specific features with attributes like user demographics, kind of data collected, unit frequency, measured vs reported, timestamp, unique hash, digital signature, privacy policy, license for content, reward, price, purpose of the experiment, scope of the experiment, etc.

SDMD offers interesting avenues of research around data modeling, automatic reasoning, constraint programming, matching algorithms and auctions.


Naysayers might argue that the successful growth of the Web is due to the absence of crippling standards to publish the data. That’s probably true. At the time, publishing was done by humans for humans and the published information was rather trivial in nature at first.

With small data, the context is different. Data is mediated by computer programs for computer programs and the published information is far from being trivial. Rather, it is immensely personal and requires some careful handling.

For this reason, developing and enforcing some small data metadata standards should not be seen as crippling but rather as empowering for the ecosystem. The definition of such standards and the related research should be encouraged today.

For small data, metadata must be a founding principle, not an afterthought.

Related Resources

GovLab Blog

Event: Financial Regulation Summit – Data Transparency Transformation

Financial Regulation Summit:
Data Transparency Transformation

presented by RR Donnelley
March 24
Washington, DC
Around the world, financial regulators are transforming document-based reporting requirements into standardized, machine-readable data. This data transparency transformation promises better accountability to investors, enhanced regulatory oversight through data analytics, and automated, cheaper compliance – but only if regulators adopt consistent data standards for the information they collect. The Financial Regulation Summit will bring together U.S. regulatory leaders, Congressional supporters of data transparency, regulated entities, and the tech companies whose solutions are ready to use transparent data to serve investors, regulators, and registrants. Together we’ll chart a course for reform.
Confirmed speakers include Treasury Office of Financial Research Director Dick Berner, SEC chief economist Mark Flannery, three Members of Congress, and many others.
U.S. regulators have a great deal of change ahead. Many reporting requirements are still expressed as disconnected documents where standardized data formats could improve accountability, management, and compliance. And although the Treasury Department has called for the universal adoption of the Legal Entity Identifier (LEI) to identify regulated entities the same way across all regulators, most agencies have not yet embraced it. But the time is right for change. Last year, President Obama signed the DATA Act into law, mandating similar reforms for the U.S. government’s own spending reports. In 2015, Congress and regulators can work together to pursue data transparency in financial regulation. That work begins at the Financial Regulation Summit.
Friends and supporters of the GovLab are offered a 15% discount with the promotional code PE15.
Register here:

Civic Innovation GovLab Blog

Participatory Democracy’s Emerging Tools

Reprinted from Governing Magazine
With Arnaud Sahuguet
As we explore the role of new technologies in changing how government makes policies and delivers services, one form of technology is emerging that has the potential to foster decision-making that’s not only more effective but also more legitimate: platforms for organizing communication by groups across a distance.
Long known as groupware in the business world, such tools now are either being adapted or purpose-built to facilitate conversation and collaboration between government and citizens with the goal of enabling democracy that is more participatory and inclusive of diverse voices.
Whether the goal is setting an agenda, brainstorming solutions, choosing a path forward and implementing it, or collaborating to assess what works, here are some examples of new tools for participatory democracy:
Agenda-setting and brainstorming:Loomio is an open-source tool designed to make it easy for small to medium-sized groups to make decisions together. Participants can start a discussion on a given topic and invite people into a conversation. As the conversation progresses, anyone can put a proposal to a vote. It is specifically designed to enable consensus-based decision-making.
Google Moderator is a service that uses crowdsourcing to rank user-submitted questions, suggestions and ideas. The tool manages feedback from a large number of people, any of whom who can submit a question or vote up or down on the top questions. The DeLib Dialogue App is a service from the United Kingdom that also allows participants to suggest ideas, refine them via comments and discussions, and rate them to bring the best ideas to the top. And Your Priorities is a service that enables citizens to voice, debate and prioritize ideas.
Voting: Democracy 2.1 and OpaVote are tools that allow people to submit ideas, debate them and then vote on them. Democracy 2.1 offers voters the additional option of casting up to four equally weighted “plus votes” and two “minus votes.” OpaVote is designed to enable elections where voters select a single candidate, employ ranked-choice or approval voting, or use any combination of voting methods.
Drafting: DemocracyOS was designed specifically to enable co-creation of legislation or policy proposals. With the tool, large numbers of users can build proposals, either from scratch or by branching off from existing drafts. Currently in use in several cities, it is designed to get citizen input into a process where final decision-making authority still rests with elected officials or civil servants. For drafting together, is an annotation tool that can be used to collaboratively annotate documents.
Discussion and Q&A: Stack Exchange enables a community to set up its own free question-and-answer board. It is optimal when a group has frequent, highly granular, factual questions that might be answered by others using the service. There are many tools on the market for wide-ranging discussion and deliberation, but a free, open-source platform is Discourse, which was created by one of the co-founders of Stack Exchange. Discourse is designed for asynchronous discussion. As a result, the features are optimized for producing civil and productive online conversation and building communities.
These are all examples of general-purpose engagement tools. There are also burgeoning numbers of platforms for specific kinds of participatory work, such asCrowdcrafting, which is custom-designed for citizen science projects.
Each of these tools has a strong community of users and developers more than happy to share their experiences with how the tools are being used for governing. (For interviews with several of the platforms’ creators, check out the GovLab’s Democracy Demos video series.) Regardless of the platform, however, for success it’s essential to clearly define the problem to be tackled, know the audience whose engagement is being sought and have a clear idea of how openness would improve the process.
Participatory democracy can start small — within a team or an agency or with the broader public. Thanks to the availability of these new tools, it can start today.

GovLab Blog Open Data Open Data 500

OD500 Australia

OD500-gn-01-bigThe GovLab is pleased to announce that OD500 Australia became the newest member of the OD500 Global Network.
Open Data 500 Australia is the first comprehensive study of Australian companies and NGOs that use open government data to generate new business, develop new products and services, improve business operations, and create social value. The collaboration between Australia’s Department of Communications and the GovLab will create new insight on how Australian organizations are using public sector data and provide a basis for assessing the social and economic value of open government datasets.

The purpose of the Open Data 500 Australia is to:
  • conduct a detailed and comprehensive survey of Australian companies on how they adopt open data into their business;
  • provide a basis for assessing the social and economic value of open government data;
  • encourage the increased publication of high value datasets by government agencies; and
  • focus the government on the publication of high value datasets with an emphasis on quality rather than quantity.
For more information about the OD500 Global Network please visit our website here. We are thrilled to welcome our friends from Down Under as we continue to grow the OD500 Network.


Additional press coverage and information related to the OD500 Australia launch:


GovLab Blog GovLab Index

The GovLab Index: Prizes and Challenges

Please find below the latest installment in the GovLab Index series, inspired by Harper’s Index. “The GovLab Index: Prizes and Challenges” highlights recent findings about two key techniques in shifting innovation from institutions to the general public:

  • Prize-Induced Contests – using monetary rewards to incentivize individuals and other entities to develop solutions to public problems; and
  • Grand Challenges – posing large, audacious goals to the public to spur collaborative, non-governmental efforts to solve them.

You can read more about Governing through Prizes and Challenges here. You can also watch Alph Bingham, co-founder of Innocentive, answer the GovLab’s questions about challenge authoring and defining the problem here.
Previous installments of the Index include Measuring Impact with Evidence, The Data Universe, Participation and Civic Engagement and Trust in Institutions. Please share any additional statistics and research findings on the intersection of technology in governance with us by emailing shruti at
Prize-Induced Contests

  • Year the British Government introduced the Longitude Prize, one of the first instances of prizes by government to spur innovation: 1714
  • President Obama calls on “all agencies to increase their use of prizes to address some of our Nation’s most pressing challenges” in his Strategy for American Innovation: September 2009
  • The US Office of Management and Budget issues “a policy framework to guide agencies in using prizes to mobilize American ingenuity and advance their respective core missions”:  March 2010
  • Launch of, “a one-stop shop where entrepreneurs and citizen solvers can find public-sector prize competitions”: September 2010
    • Number of competitions currently live on in February 2015: 22 of 399 total
    • How many competitions on are for $1 million or above: 23
  • The America COMPETES Reauthorization Act is introduced, which grants “all Federal agencies authority to conduct prize competitions to spur innovation, solve tough problems, and advance their core missions”: 2010
  • Value of prizes authorized by COMPETES: prizes up to $50 million
  • Fact Sheet and Frequently Asked Questions memorandum issued by the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Office of Management and Budget to aid agencies to take advantage of authorities in COMPETES: August 2011
  • Number of prize competitions run by the Federal government from 2010 to April 2012: 150
  • How many Federal agencies have run prize competitions by 2012: 40
  • Prior to 1991, the percentage of prize money that recognized prior achievements according to an analysis by McKinsey and Company: 97%
    • Since 1991, percentage of new prize money that “has been dedicated to inducement-style prizes that focus on achieving a specific, future goal”: 78%
  • Value of the prize sector as estimated by McKinsey in 2009: $1-2 billion
  • Growth rate of the total value of new prizes: 18% annually
  • Growth rate in charitable giving in the US: 2.5% annually
  • Value of the first Horizon Prize awarded in 2014 by the European Commission to German biopharmaceutical company CureVac GmbH “for progress towards a novel technology to bring life-saving vaccines to people across the planet in safe and affordable ways”: €2 million
  • Number of solvers registered on InnoCentive, a crowdsourcing company: 355,000+ from nearly 200 countries
    • Total Challenges Posted: 2,000+ External Challenges
    • Total Solution Submissions: 40,000+
    • Value of the awards: $5,000 to $1+ million
    • Success Rate for premium challenges: 85%

Grand Challenges

  • Value of the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize, sponsored in part by DOE to develop production-capable super fuel-efficient vehicles: $10 million
    • Number of teams around the world who took part in the challenge “to develop a new generation of technologies” for production-capable super fuel-efficient vehicles: 111 teams
  • Time it took for the Air Force Research Laboratory to receive a workable solution on “a problem that had vexed military security forces and civilian police for years” by opening the challenge to the world: 60 days
  • Value of the HHS Investing in Innovation initiative to spur innovation in Health IT, launched under the new COMPETES act: $5 million program
  • Number of responses received by NASA for its Asteroid Grand Challenge RFI which seeks to identify and address all asteroid threats to the human population: over 400
  • The decreased cost of sequencing a single human genome as a result of the Human Genome Project Grand Challenge: $7000 from $100 million
  • Amount the Human Genome Project Grand Challenge has contributed to the US economy for every $1 invested by the US federal government: $141 for every $1 invested
  • The amount of funding for research available for the “Brain Initiative,” a collaboration between the National Institute of Health, DARPA and the National Science Foundation, which seeks to uncover new prevention and treatment methods for brain disorders like Alzheimer’s, autism and schizophrenia: $100 million
  • Total amount offered in cash awards by the Department of Energy’s “SunShot Grand Challenge,” which seeks to eliminate the cost disparity between solar energy and coal by the end of the decade: $10 million


GovLab Blog

Digital tools for participatory democracy

Arnaud Saughet (The GovLab) at Nesta:
It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” – Winston Churchill
“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”  – Winston Churchill
In our last issue of Tech4Lab, GitHub: the Swiss army knife of civic innovation?, we looked at how GitHub is a potentially powerful tool for civic innovators – allowing greater collaboration, transparency and participation for civic projects. In this third issue, we present a number of participatory democracy platforms and tools we think could enhance the work of civic innovators, particularly government innovation teams and labs, looking for more decentralised, open ways of working.

What is participatory democracy?

A crude definition of participatory democracy is “decision making about public problems where citizens get involved”. In the following, we will consider three players:
Decision making in participatory democracy can be broadly divided into the following stages:

  • Problem identification: identifying  problems to be solved and/or choosing which problem/s to focus on
  • Ideation and  co-creation: generate solutions for the problem
  • Drafting proposals based on the solutions suggested
  • Voting for and against proposals
  • Checking that the solution has been properly deployed and actually solves the problem identified in the first step.

Political scientists usually split forms of democracy into representative (aka indirect) and direct democracy. This should not be seen as a binary split but rather as a spectrum along which citizens decide to outsource (or delegate) some of their power for the five stages mentioned above.
We try to illustrate how these two forms fit with decision-making process in the figure below.
In representative democracy, citizens vote for elected officials who will represent them because of lack of time, knowledge or will to contribute to policymaking. In most representative democracies there are still cases of direct democracy in the form of referendum (officials asking for citizens to vote on a given issue), initiative (citizens forcing officials to vote on a given issue of their choosing) and recall (citizens voting to remove an official before the end of their mandate).
In direct democracy, the contribution of citizens for the five stages becomes stronger. In its extreme form, elected officials are not even needed anymore. But as pointed out in Noveck (2009), the success of direct democracy has not been clear cut, despite lots of hopes from new digital technologies.
Participatory democracy lives in a different dimension where the focus is more on the participation of citizens. Here again, political scientists like to distinguish between deliberative democracy and collaborative democracy.
Deliberative democracy puts the emphasis on citizens discussing views and opinions about what the state should and should not do. Focus is on the input, opinion formation, self-expression and talk.
Collaborative democracy puts the emphasis on citizens working together. The focus is on developing a solution leading to action.
From a technology and technical point of view, the frontiers between these various forms of democracy is pretty fuzzy. In the next section, we look at various tools that foster participatory democracy, focusing not so much on the forms of democracy they serve but rather on the stages of the process they facilitate.

Tools for participatory democracy

We now look at various tools that can help with the five stages of the process:
Loomio is an open source tool that makes it easy for groups to make decisions together. Rather than a majority rules vote, Loomio combines deliberation with a flexible consensus-building process. Groups can discuss a topic, build agreement around a proposal, and arrive at a clear agreed outcome that can be put into action.
With the tool, citizens start a discussion on a given topic, invite people and start the conversation. As the conversation progresses, anyone can put a proposal to vote. The proposal gets discussed. People can vote and change their vote. If a proposal reaches a majority, a decision has been reached. Otherwise, another proposal can be issued, discussed and put to vote.
DemocracyOS brings collaborative decision making and easy governance to communities and organisations of all sizes . With the tool, citizens can build proposals, from scratch or by branching from others and decision-makers build two way-conversations with their constituencies. Debates take place with the platform rewarding the best arguments, filtering the noise and keeping the trolls at bay. Then people can vote for or against the proposal.
Your Priorities is a service that enables citizens to voice, debate and prioritise ideas. With the tool, people submit ideas and debate them. The best ideas rise to the top.
Democracy 2.1 is a new voting system. The tool offers voters the additional option of casting up to four equally weighted “plus votes” and two “minus votes”.
Google Moderator is a Google service that uses crowdsourcing to rank user-submitted questions, suggestions and ideas. The tool manages feedback from a large number of people, who can submit a question or vote up or down for the top questions.
OpaVote is a service for online elections and polls. The tool lets you create elections where voters select a single candidate, a ranked-choice voting election, approval voting, or any combination of methods.
DeLib Dialogue App is a service to produce ideas that are valuable and actionable through structured online discussion. With the tool, participants suggest ideas, refine them via comments and discussions and rate them to bring the best ideas to the top.
The usage of each tool for direct democracy is summarised below:
We should note that although none of tools have dedicated functionalities to provide tracking of decisions, some features can be used for this purpose.

How to start

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Participatory democracy can start small, within your team, your organisation, your social club.These tools could be incredibly useful if you’re looking for some fresh approaches in how you frame problems, crowdsource solutions, make decisions, and ultimately,  take action. Here are some tips to give it a start:

  • Start small and clearly define your scope
  • Start with a willing crowd
  • Identify which stages of the process you want to improve
  • Don’t be dogmatic; depending on the context, pick a digital tool or stick to paper and pencil
  • Learn and iterate

Each tool we presented in this column has a very strong community of users and developers. Don’t hesitate to reach out to them. They will be more than happy to share their experience and help you.

To continue the conversation:

  • Share your comments
  • On Twitter using #Tech4Labs
  • On Discourse here

Special thanks to Beth Noveck, Andrew Miller, Pia Mancini and Ben Knight for comments on early versions of this piece.


For more resources and digital democracy tools check out Nesta’s D-CENT project. While a map of current direct democracy projects can be found at Direct Democracy Navigator.

List of products mentioned in this article:
  1. DemocracyOS
  2. Democracy 2.1
  3. Google Moderator
  4. Loomio
  5. OpaVote
  6. Your Priorities & Citizens Foundation
  7. Delib

Noveck, Beth Simone. 2009. Wiki Government: How Technology Can Make Government Better, Democracy Stronger, and Citizens More Powerful. Brookings Institution Press.
Images courtesy of GovLab.
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