Talk on “The Politics of Open Data: Past, Present and Future” at Data Power conference, University of Sheffield, 22nd June 2015

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I’m giving a talk today on “The Politics of Open Data: Past, Present and Future” at the Data Power conference at the University of Sheffield. The slides and abstract for the talk are copied below.


The Politics of Open Data: Past, Present and Future

Advocates argue that the “open data revolution” will enable greater transparency, accountability and public participation; new civic applications and services; greater government efficiency; technological innovation and new businesses and startups (Kitchin, 2014). Critics argue that open data initiatives may end up empowering the empowered (Gurstein, 2011) or acting as an instrument of a programme of austerity, neoliberalisation and marketisation of public services (Bates, 2012, 2013, 2014; Longo, 2011; Margetts, 2013).

This paper draws on a combination of historical and empirical research to examine open data as a contested political concept that is continually reconfigured in response to shifting ideals, conceptions and practices of governance and democracy in different contexts. This includes work towards a “genealogy of open data” (Gray, 2014), as well as the findings from several research projects at the Digital Methods Initiative to map the politics of open data as an issue on the web using digital “methods of the medium” (Marres and Rogers, 2005; Rogers, 2013).

Building on this historical and empirical research, the paper will propose a stronger social and democratic agenda for open data as a political concept. It will challenge the predominant focus on growth, innovation and efficiency, and argue for a conception of open data supporting progressive campaigning, public interest journalism and democratic participation – looking at recent advocacy around tax justice and drawing on research on “statactivism” and statistics as an instrument of social critique (Desrosières, 2014; Isabelle, Emmanuel and Tommaso, 2014).


  • Bates, J. (2012). ‘This is what modern deregulation looks like’: Co-optation and contestation in the shaping of the UK’s Open Government Data Initiative. The Journal of Community Informatics, Vol 8, No 2.page1image16016 page1image16176
  • Bates, J. (2013) The Domestication of Open Government Data Advocacy in the United Kingdom: A Neo-Gramscian Analysis. Policy & Internet. Vol 5, Issue 1, 118-137. March 2013.
  • Bates, J. (2014) The Strategic Importance of Information Policy for the Contemporary Neoliberal State: The Case of Open Government Data in the United Kingdom. Government Information Quarterly. Vol. 31, Issue 3, 388-395.
  • Desrosières, A. (2014) Statistics and social critique. Partecipazione e conflitto. The Open Journal of Sociopolitical Studies. Vol. 7, No. 2.
  • Isabelle, B., Emmanuel, D. & Tommaso, V. (2014), “Statactivism: forms of action between disclosure and affirmation”, in Partecipazione e conflitto. The Open Journal of Sociopolitical Studies. Vol. 7, No. 2.
  • Gray, J. (2014) Towards a Genealogy of Open Data. Paper presented at the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) General Conference 2014, University of Glasgow. Available at:
  • Gurstein, M. B. (2011) Open data: Empowering the empowered or effective data use for everyone?. First Monday: 16:2-7.
  • Longo, J. (2011). “#Opendata: Digital-Era Governance Thoroughbred or New Public Management Trojan Horse?”. Public Policy & Governance Review. Vol. 2, No. 2, 38.
  • Kitchin, R. (2014) The Data Revolution: Big Data, Open Data, Data Infrastructures and their Consequences. London: Sage.
  • Margetts, H. (2013) “Data, Data Everywhere: Open Data versus Big Data in the Quest for Transparency”. In Bowles, N. Hamilton, J. T. & Levy, D. (eds), Transparency in Politics and the Media: Accountability and Open Government. London: I. B. Tauris & Co.
  • Marres, N. and R. Rogers (2005) “Recipe for tracing the fate of issues and their publics on the Web”. In B. Latour and P. Weibel (Eds.) Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Rogers, R. (2013). Digital Methods. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
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