Public Policy, Big Data and Smart Cities

I have just got back from the International Conference on Public Policy in Milan, where I was attending a stream of internet and public policy panels, as well as presenting a paper on explaining open data outcomes which I am currently working on together with some colleagues here at the OII. The conference itself was huge: in only it’s second year it attracted around 1,300 registrations, from across the policy sciences. Our sessions on the internet were quite well attended, though I didn’t feel like we attracted many people beyond those already interested in the internet.


I acted as discussant on a couple of panels on big data, with a particularly interesting one on smart cities. I think the smart city field is where public policy and big data overlap most closely: using big data to govern the city has already captured a lot of attention in both academia and policy itself, with examples of initiatives such as the Mayor’s Office for Data Analytics in New York or the Centro de Operações in Rio de Janeiro. It’s interesting to see the potential these places have for improving existing administration

It’s also worth highlighting all the challenges to smart city development, from opening data to getting the right skills in place. This is probably the reason why large cities which have created these kind of data “nerve centres” are leading the way, because they can overcome these obstacles in a concentrated way with direct support from the hierarchy. They raise the interesting possibility, furthermore, that they will become not just supporters of policy execution, but places where policy is set and defined. That would be revolutionary.

New Paper in European Union Politics

I have just published a paper in European Union Politics, together with Diego Garzia, Joseph Lacey and Alex Trechsel of the EUI. The paper was the fruition of a long term research project examining potential ways of changing the European Parliament’s electoral system, focussed in particular on allowing people to vote for parties in any member state. It seems particularly relevant today when protest parties such as Syriza and Podemos attract support (and criticism) from well outside of their own borders.

The paper explores what would happen under conditions of such transnationalisation, examining both what types of people would be likely to vote “transnationally” and the extent to which overall levels of representation would improve. Great to have it in print.

GE2015 on social media

Last week we had a sort of social media hackathon in honour of the UK’s election, looking at the reaction generated on social media. We took what I believe was a fairly novel approach to the analysis, by looking at social media reaction to individual candidates in constituencies (rather than just general hashtags or party leaders). The map below shows what the election results would have been if @mentions of these local candidates had been votes


We are still digesting the data so I’m not yet sure what the main findings are really, though we did get some interesting stuff on the diverging social media “reach” of different candidates, and the way Twitter impact and vote has different relationships depending on the party.


Check out our full range of work here. More to follow…


A couple of weeks ago I gave a presentation at TICTEC, mySociety‘s inaugural research conference on the impact of civic technology. It was an inspiring event with so many presentations from different organisations trying to make a difference in countries all over the world.


There were a few academics there and hopefully we added some value too. I gave a presentation on a current project we are running with ULB exploring the dynamics of the website

Threshold Scatter

It was interesting however to see how differently academia and civic tech conceptualise research, with us academics coming in for some stick for taking years to produce research which makes it difficult to integrate into the development of new tools. But there were also lots of good examples of researchers working with civic tech organisations to try out new ways of reaching people or do research on impact – this sort of stuff is the future of political science in my opinion.

Information Seeking Behaviour and Election Predictions

My colleague Taha Yasseri and I recently received a grant from the Fell Fund to extend our work on information seeking behaviour around election time, which has allowed us to bring Eve Ahearn on board on the project. Over the next few months we’re going to be really expanding the amount of elections we cover in the research, and also look at different types of information seeking signal. We’ll also be firing up the project’s research blog which we started up a few months ago. Eve has just put up the first post on subjectivity in data collection.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.