‘7 Questions’ to Keynote Speaker Alon Peled @CeDEM15


We would like to introduce our next keynote speaker Alon Peled of the upcoming CeDEM15 to you. CeDEM15 is an international Conference for e-Democracy and Open Government and will take place at Danube University Krems (22-25.5.20015). It brings together specialists – working in academia, politics, government and business – to critically analyse innovations, issues, ideas and challenges in the digital age.

We have asked Alon Peled 7 questions relating to his professional experiences and the topics he will present at the CeDEM15. See what he responded and get to know him a bit more before the CeDEM15!

1. Your Keynote at CeDEM15 will be “Wazing the Information Super Highway: Linking the World’s Open Data Resources” – what can we expect?

Supported by a Google Faculty Research Award (2013), I created the world’s largest corpus of metadata about Open Government Data (OGD) called the Public Sector Information Exchange (PSIE). In mid April 2015, the PSIE corpus held metadata about 376,885 OGD information assets published by municipal, county, state, country, and federal agencies in 25 countries and in 15 languages. At CeDEM15, I will tell the story behind creating this unique corpus and demonstrate how to use the corpus to support the OGD policy innovation. For example, NASA, the American federal space agency used a PSIE-based challenge in its most recent Space Apps Hackathon (see 2015.spaceappschallenge.org/challenge/data-treasure-hunting). The challenge was to develop a clever software program to add keywords to NASA’s OGD information assets so that they become easier to discover on the Web in non-space domains. Forty-five software developers from the USA, Italy, Macedonia, Egypt, Tunisia, Slovenia, India, and New Zealand labored to solve this challenge (see 2015.spaceappschallenge.org).

2. Can you give us a short overview of your recently published book “Traversing Digital Babel. Information, E-Government and Exchange”?

In this book, I propose a new approach to revitalize critical information flows in public sector agencies. I suggest considering public agency information assets as a contested commodity, and employing incentives to “nudge” agencies to exchange these assets in a Public Sector Information Exchange (PSIE). I demonstrate that PSIE and similar programs can save governments billions of dollars, improve services to citizens, and even save lives. I map the primary ethical, political, legal, economic and technical challenges to PSIE and how these challenges can be addressed. See a short 5-minute movie about the book’s main idea here: scholars.huji.ac.il/traversingdigitalbabel

3. Regarding your career, you were and are involved in projects linked to Big Data. Where do you see the need to combine academia and software engineering?

In my own work, I constantly search for new ways to combine my passion for both Big Data and the scholarly study of public administration. Big Data is the meeting ground between social science and computer science. Even if you are not a software developer, there are numerous, exciting opportunities to combine Big Data with the study topics you are passionate about. I look forward to meeting a crowd of very talented people at CeDEM15 and discussing these opportunities with them!

4. Is there a project you’re most proud of – can you share with us why? ?

I am most proud of “Traversing Digital Babel. Information, E-Government and Exchange” (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2014). I labored hard for six long years to produce this book (reading almost 2,400 books and articles for the purpose of producing it!) and had to re-write it several times. Traversing Digital Babel then became the intellectual foundation of the PSIE project that I will present at CeDEM15!

5. This year one of the classes you are teaching is about “strategy”. Where do you see the role of change and creativity in designing successful strategies?

Strategy is a popular B.A. level elective class where my students dress up as Spartans and Athenians, Romans and Carthaginians, and are then asked to think like these ancient people and develop strategies to cope with their opponents. The students and I jointly develop ideas that we call ‘the eternal principles of grand strategy’ and then examine if we can identify these principles when we examine the work of people like Steve Jobs, Lee Kwan Yew, and Mahatma Gandhi. Some of these principles are about change and creativity such as ‘seed a fertile future’ or ‘let the right order reveal the right things to do.’ Thanks for asking. I look further to discussing further at CeDEM15!

6. As an adviser for research students, where do you see blind spots in the future to conduct research?

Research students (and their advisors) can develop new and creative ways to employ Big Data and business intelligence research techniques alongside older and more established research techniques to improve their research projects. Even if the advisor himself or herself does not feel comfortable using these computing techniques, he or she can still ‘nudge’ their students to explore possibilities to employ them. Why not? Let the PhD student teach his or her advisor a new trick!

7. What do you want people to take away from your Keynote?

The formal OGD policy innovation began six years ago in 2009. Unfortunately, it’s not looking good today. Public agencies release too few information assets to the public (even though they are required by law to release these assets!) and citizens cannot easily discover useful OGD information assets on the Web. One interesting theme that I wish to brainstorm at CeDEM15 is how to create a new virtuous Open Government Data eco-system where ‘supply’ (i.e., public agencies’ willingness to release more data) and ‘demand’ (i.e., citizens’ and entrepreneurs’ desire to discover and use open government data) intensify each other. I want to share some heretical thoughts about creating a new balance between ‘public-data-for-free’ and ‘public-data-for-sale’ in order to support this virtuous cycle. I am very eager to hear, debate, and learn from the talented CeDEM15 participants about this issue!

Alon Furlong
Alon_0023Alon is associate professor and political scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. He is ” fascinated by the interaction between information and politics in the public sector and innovative information-sharing technologies that facilitate this interaction”. This is reflected in his work and research, where he bringes together academia and the world of software engineering. He teaches “Advanced Research Literacy”, “Strategy”, “The Foudnations of the Public Adminstration”, “Citizen and State in the Information Age” and “The Data Revolution: Information and Organization” and recently published the book “Traversing Digital Babel. Information, E-Government and Exchange” with MIT Press.

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