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The Data-fication of Openness - The Practices and Policies of Open Government Data in Los Angeles


This dissertation explores the emergence of open government data in the City of Los Angeles and its implications for governance and citizen involvement. Open government data began in Los Angeles in 2013 with the launch of an open data portal publishing City financial data; later that year the City’s Mayor, Eric Garcetti, mandated that each city department publish at least one publically relevant dataset on a new city-wide site to be available the following year. The policy later expanded with the addition of sites that publish department performance metrics and geographical data. Concurrent with the growth of open data policies is a burgeoning “civic hacker” movement that seeks to put government data to civic use.

This dissertation investigates the material, practical work required to turn a city record into open data; it also shows how open data’s ideological role enables new administrative models and inspires new modes of civic involvement. This dissertation is concerned, ultimately, with the political, creative, and day-to-day work of government and civic data, and how these emerging practices and their cultural dimensions interact with the public rhetoric of open data. To both capture and confront the discourse of open data, this research seeks specificity in the implementation of open data in city offices and at public events. I use interviews and fieldwork to understand how public records migrate from internal infrastructures to the public portal, and from there to public sites where the datasets are reused by civic participants and the private sector. I situate open data within sociotechnical systems that surround its production, processing, storing, sharing, analysis and reuse. This research also asks how citizens use data to challenge or augment dominant statistical representations.

Drawing on critical data studies, science and technology studies, and political theory, I analyze the present and future impact of these information infrastructures on modes of administration, citizen involvement, and the relationship between government and governed. My work provides evidence that data consists of material and ideological systems that can modify and extend relations of power. Specifically, policies of government transparency transformed from an antagonistic dynamic pitting citizens versus governments and private industry, into one of mutual collaboration. My�dissertation�argues that open data does not transparently reveal government transactions and processes; rather this work subtly reshapes modes of administration through a data-centric lens that appeals to industry and civic participants alike. To make this case I examine open data policy in practice and also in relation to historical and contemporary examples of political activism that undertake oppositional, social justice approaches both to government transparency and data production.

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