A little over a year ago, I wrote on this blog that communicative norms on the use of social media were shifting around, but would eventually settle down. This would happen, I argued rather naïvely, as patterns and preferences of user communities determined the contours and content of fast changing information and communication ecologies. I should also have said that vested interests –both good and bad--would attempt to exert influence on this process.
We’ve all probably come across stories of the ways in which news and media organizations, businesses, schools, and international donors have been struggling to remain relevant within shifting information environments around the world. So have governments, parliaments, and bureaucracies. Much has been written about these struggles for relevance, and a dominant theme in much of this writing has been the need to provide users with tools to manage unrelenting information gluts.
From The Tweeted Times to The New York Times Mobile Apps, from open government initiatives to Global Voices, competing in this race for relevance seems to rely on the ability to “curate” data, news, and information in ways that are useful and pleasing to users and their networks. See Susan Moeller’s post for a more in-depth take on this.
Those bombarded incessantly with massive quantities of data and information need both curators, a.k.a. gatekeepers, and tools to more easily digest and evaluate complex claims. One such mobile application was developed by the World Bank’s publishing unit and is scheduled to launch this week. Dubbed “Results at a Glance”, the app (available here) was created to help members of the international development community – including CSOs, NGOs, and donors—advocate for development issues by featuring more than 450 results stories from over 85 countries.
While testing a beta version recently, I imagined using it while chatting with, say, a representative of an education NGO based in Egypt. Let’s say they had partnered with the education ministry and were designing a project to enhance parental involvement in children’s schooling. In my smartphone, I could pull up a project that included this component and generated good results, say, Peru RECURSO. With a few taps on a little screen, I could then show some pictures, play a video, and forward information to my colleague via e-mail.
The app also resonates harmoniously with the World Bank’s current access to information policy by making development stories "discoverable" and pointing users in the direction of projects they might want to learn more about. Those who are interested can then weigh available evidence and fashion considered opinions on these projects. Seems to me like a potentially viable mix of ingredients for evidence-based public discussion and debate on development effectiveness.
The more general point is that organizations that house massive vaults of data need to find ways in which they can interface effectively with potential users of information and analysis. All this is in line with what Moeller argued:
Increasingly what is needed are people who have the critical and analytical tools to sort through the vast amount of data that is being created in all fields. And news curation needs to be a concept embedded in app design as well as hardware creation: If the public has to do it, they need intuitive ways to handle it.
Access to data and information, no matter how free of charge and restriction, is necessary but insufficient for attaining the goals of transparency, accountability, and participation. Users need curators to provide expert gatekeeping, when desired, and tools to build information gateways to their own preferred specifications.
Image credit: Office of the Publisher, The World Bank