Digital Labor

Morgan Currie


Morgan Currie is a PhD candidate in Information Studies at UCLA. Her work examines open government data and open records, focusing on the Los Angeles context. She is currently a researcher for the Kleinrock Center for Internet Studies and the Participation Lab.

A Dual Valuation of Openness 
This talk provides a critique of the rhetoric of openness by exploring some conceptual tensions found in claims about open government data. Open government data draws its ideological underpinnings from a variety of sources, ranging from transparency laws and e-government to open source cultures, and big data projects. Such disparate legacies support government data’s dual and possibly conflicting valuations: both as a public good in service of communicative democracy, and also as a means to capture commercial value through data circulation and reuse. The rhetoric of openness therefore often positions open government data as a means to ‘lean government’ through a deliberate amalgamation of public, private, civic, and community partnerships collaborating to make more efficient, cost effective government.

This research focuses on two case studies where these conceptual legacies and contradictions play out. First civic hacking events are typically supported by an unusual coalition of non-profit civic organizations, city governments, and corporations to encourage the innovative reuse of government data. While civic hacking events mobilize new modes of civic engagement for non-commercial interests, for companies these events provide free labor and free data as cheap assets to assimilate into corporate projects or positions. Second, these contradictions can also be found through alliances that form in the goal of technical open standards-making. These public-private partnerships are particularly evident in Google’s involvement with open data standards such as the Global Transit Feed Specification for public transit data, and the Civic Information API. While public-corporate collaboration in creating standards is not new (think of the SMS text messaging format, or MP3), the rhetoric of openness provides a novel way to promote the blurring of public, private, and civic interests. This research seeks a deeper understanding of some of the private value capture that occurs in civic projects operating under the banner of openness.