New Project – Examining Public Participation in ACTion Alexandria

The Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech has entered into an agreement to partner with ACT for Alexandria to advance the design of citizen engagement platforms.I will lead a team of researchers who will work in collaboration with ACT for Alexandria personnel to examine public participation on the ACTion Alexandria platform. The team will look at how user interactions on the community platform can guide design choices that promote more robust forms of citizen engagement.

ACT for Alexandria is a community foundation founded in the the fall of 2004 by a small group of citizens who came together to decide how best to stimulate philanthropic giving to improve the lives of the most vulnerable in their community. The ACTion Alexandria project is a new citizen engagement platform which provides interactive tools that make it easier for residents to take a more active role in addressing community problems. ACTion Alexandria connects individuals to nonprofit organizations they want to support, but with a strictly local focus. Individuals have the opportunity to take action on behalf of nonprofits working to improve the community.

ACT for Alexandria is a prominent player in the non-profit space. We are excited to partner with them to study the dynamics of public participation in action. The ACTion platform gives us access to real world scenarios of how citizens use technology to engage each other.

This initiative will advance the work being done in Policy Informatics at the Metropolitan Institute. Designing better collaborative and participatory platforms remains a critical challenge in the public arena. We are not only interested in this project from a research point of view but also from a design and policy point of view. The Metropolitan Institute will be analyzing information on user behavior on the platform, designing experiments to test various strategies for increasing engagement on the platform, and contributing to the design of the overall platform.

Collaborating on this effort allows us the opportunity to make a difference in our community. The MI is based in Alexandria and we want to be part of the community. ACT for Alexandria provides an amazing array of services, from scholarships to leadership training. ACTion Alexandria is where the idea of community engagement meets the newest technological innovations.

See here for the press release from the Metropolitan Institute (Link)

Investigating Failures in Large-Scale Public Sector Projects with Sentiment Analysis

I have co-authored a paper with Sandeep Purao and Jonathan Becker, both based at the College of Information Science and Technology at Penn State University, which analyzes the IRS’s Business Systems Modernization Project using sentiment analysis. The paper will appear in a special issue of e-Service Journal.

We describe results from historical analysis of the IRS Business Systems Modernization (BSM) as an example of large-scale, public sector projects. The project has already spanned a decade and consumed more than 3 billion dollars. The paper suggests extracting stakeholder Sentiments and Confidence from documents, with a view to exploring how such measures may offer early indications of project progress and assist managers to prevent undesirable future outcomes. The key contribution of this research is a demonstration of a plausible technique to elicit stakeholder perspectives based on the content in publicly available documents, either complementing any existing methods, or supplanting them in projects where collecting primary data may be infeasible.

A previous version of this paper was presented at the 44th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences in theElectronic Government Track(Development Methods for Electronic Government, Minitrack).

Defining Policy Informatics

I have been busy working on a statement that captures the essence of policy informatics. Here is my first-cut at the definition. I thank all those who have already provided comments on this version, especially Dr. Erik Johnston (Co-Director of the Center for Public Informatics at Arizona State University). Please do send me your comments, both positive and negative, and suggestions for improvement. Thanks.

Policy Informatics

Solving complex public policy problems, dilemmas, and challenges requires deliberate, and sophisticated, information analysis.

Policymakers often are faced with conflicting solutions to complex problems, thus making it necessary for them to test out their assumptions, interventions, and resolutions. Towards this end, it becomes critical for a policymaker to have an information-rich, interactive environment in which complex problems can be modeled, simulated, visualized, and studied.

Relevant information can range from being too abundant to hardly existent. In the former case, we face the challenge of leveraging large quantities of information under severe time and resource constraints. In the latter case, limited or incomplete information has to be used to make decisions on ambiguous solution spaces.

In deliberating, designing, and implementing policies, the policy makers and the public face a number of transactional and collaborative inefficiencies. Some of these inefficiencies arise from the simple reality that information held by both parties is difficult to articulate and even transfer, i.e. information is sticky. This makes it difficult for either party to collaborate as they do not fully empathize with the problems of the other.

In addition, advances in communication and computational technologies enable new pathways to solutions. Rather than trying to solve public problems, governments are able to empower its public to solve their own problems. Crowdsourcing and bottom-up, emergent, problem-solving are desirable as the public have a greater chance of taking charge of their own local problems, voicing their concerns, and arriving at locally relevant solutions. Designing and mobilizing platforms where citizen input is used effectively to solve local problems and collaborative forums improves the results, and therefore the relationships, for both the policy makers and the public.

Policy informatics is the study of how information is leveraged and efforts are coordinated towards solving complex public policy problems. Driven by the need to exploit information to tackle complex policy problems and to ensure efficient and efficient policy setting and implementation platforms, policy informatics seeks to

  • enhance policy analysis and design through visualizing, modeling, and simulating complex policy scenarios,
  • study the role of information systems and information-based governance platforms in policy planning, deliberation, and implementation,
  • advance the management of information systems projects in the public sector,
  • study how information analysis and management influences the design of participatory platforms, and
  • arrive at theoretical and practical frameworks to advance our knowledge of the roles of information analysis in policy setting, the use of computational techniques in policy contexts, and how information-driven policy setting influences the nature of governance and governance platforms.

Policy informatics helps us advance evidence-driven policy design, wherein scientific models and analyses drive decision-making for resolution of complex policy challenges, dilemmas, and problems. Policy informatics is an emerging field of both research and a community of practice focusing on 1) advancing decision-making in the public sector through information-centric analysis of evidence that leverages computational and technological advances, and 2) designing, managing, and evaluating of information systems and infrastructures for policy construction, analysis, and implementation. Policy informatics expands to the multi-disciplinary nature of the public administration discipline by infusing it with the advances of information technology, management of information systems, and computational and informational science perspectives.