Performing Bureaucracy: Cultures of Government Data Practice

Speaker: Morgan Currie # University of Edinburgh

15th Oct 2018

15:30 - 17:00

Staff Room, 6th floor, Crystal Macmillan Building, George Square, University of Edinburgh

Add Seminar to Calendar (vCal)

Hand-in-hand with the launch of open data policies, city governments have embraced data as an all-purpose solution to track performance, set goals, justify budget expenditures, direct public services, and be accountable to the public. Through datafication staff consider administrative records both as evidence of government activities and also reusable assets with statistical and machine-actionable functions. These data practices provide legitimized way for municipal governments to know and govern the city and manage its resources. Contended as performative acts, local governments’ data practices help the city perform aspects of its functions and values such accountability, transparency, and democracy.

For evidence of this shift, the author draws on an in-depth empirical study of Los Angeles’ open data program from 2013 to 2018. This research entailed participant observations, field visits, and interviews with City staff to describe the largely invisible cultural processes and technical work that produce and use Los Angeles’s administrative datasets. To analyze these observations, the authors describe three aspects of the datafication of records as they unfolded in primarily in five city departments: 1) internal evaluation and economization 2) publicity in the form of public-facing maps and 3) data partnerships with civil society. The article contributes to the much-needed understanding of how governments are adapting managerial, analytic, and public engagement practices in the current historical moment of negotiating with neoliberalism, scientific reasoning, and democracy.

Morgan Currie is Lecturer in Data & Society at the University of Edinburgh