Creating a Taxonomy for Citizen-Generated Data initiatives – an interview with Giovanni Maccani

„The intention of this upcoming project is for Catalonia to be the focal point of a comprehensive data ecosystem, strengthening the balance between demand-pulled and supply-pushed mechanisms. We are starting to think meaningfully from the demand side of this ecosystem, as opposed to a supply-pushed perspective, which in my experience has been predominant in this field to date,“ says Giovanni Maccani in our interview.

Giovanni Maccani is a Senior Researcher at Ideas for Change. Giovanni has been Assistant Professor and Lecturer in Management Information Systems at the School of Business, National University of Ireland Maynooth (NUIM). He is also an Academic Member of LERO, the Irish Software Research Centre; TAG, the Technology Adoption Group; and of the Business Informatics Group at Dublin City University. Giovanni has achieved a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in Engineering, both at the Polytechnic University of Milan. He earned a PhD in Information Systems at NUIM under the “Enterprise Partnership Scheme” of the Irish Research Council (IRC) in 2016. This programme was funded by IRC and Intel Corp. (enterprise partner). His research domains cover Smart Cities, Urban IT Governance, Citizen Science, Design Science, Autonomous Vehicles, and Open Government Data. Since then, Giovanni has worked on digital transformation strategies and IT Governance across several city councils in Ireland and internationally. So far, he has published more than thirty peer reviewed academic papers.

Contact Giovanni Maccani with regard to the Citizen-Generated Data taxonomy discussed below.


Sebastian Klemm: Together with Lucia Errandonea and Javier Creus at Ideas for Change you just published the report called “Support to the Mapping of CGD Cases and Actors for the Project Catalunya un País de Dades” as basis for the upcoming project Catalunya un País de Dades.

What is the motivation behind both your preceding study for this report and the project that now follows?

Giovanni Maccani: The report “Support to the Mapping of CGD Cases and Actors for the Project Catalunya un País de Dades” has been promoted by the Secretariat of Open Government of the Generalitat de Catalunya. It serves as the first step to develop the project Catalunya un País de Dades (Catalonia, the country of data).

This ambitious project will last for five to ten years, whereby the regional governmental authority wants to become the focal point of an aspired Open Data ecosystem.

This endeavor has already been promoted for a long time, since the beginning of the Open Data movement. What the regional governmental authority is trying to do is to move beyond joining internal datasets towards also fostering inclusion of private and citizen-generated data. The ultimate goal is to provide a reliable data infrastructure to foster different forms of use. This can vary from promoting government transparency and consultation, to actual service innovation and economic growth. Catalunya País de Dades thus becomes the keystone in this ecosystem, encompassing meaningful contributions from different sectors, institutions, projects and communities in their Open Data portal.

The study and report of Ideas for Change adopt the definition by Wilson & Rahman for Citizen-Generated Data as "data that people or their organisations produce to directly monitor, demand or drive change on issues that affect them. This can be produced through crowdsourcing mechanisms or citizen reporting initiatives. This is distinct from “big data” or social media data, which is indirectly created by citizens through interaction with media platforms."

Our study was specifically concerned with investigating what is the citizen-generated-data element of this next ecosystem, and to primarily understand what is the current situation in Catalonia and Spain.

We achieved this by combining two sources of evidence. On the one hand, we were looking at existing literature on how to map data ecosystems, and then, within that, how to map citizen generated data ecosystems. On the other hand, and from a more inclusive and bottom-up perspective, we were looking at examples of projects, programmes and general endeavors driven buy or built upon citizen generated data.

These findings, combined, led to the design and definition of an overarching framework to characterize citizen-generated data initiatives. In other words, from a systematic analysis of 50 exemplary initiatives, we defined six constructs that collectively describe them across a number of mutually exclusive elements.

In this way, we have developed a taxonomy that can basically be applied to describe any citizen-generated data effort.


study report figure 1: The CGD Emerging Taxonomy

Sebastian Klemm: What are some of the positive outcomes of this report?

Giovanni Maccani: We have identified 50+ initiatives of citizen-generated data in Catalonia and developed the above mentioned taxonomy. What we were looking at, were patterns amongst elements of the taxonomy. What we were able to verify are three different elements:

  • First: What is the project about? This dimension includes who has funded the project, who is the leading organization, what is its geographical scope, what sector does it belong to? Furthermore, what is the citizens role within the project? – Sometimes citizens are merely data providers without even knowing what data they are providing and why. Sometimes they own the whole project or action, and sometimes they can be actively involved into its co-design and/or contribute to it across several different stages.
  • Second: The data generated. This dimension includes elements that relate to the following questions: How is this data generated? – What type of data it is, the data format they follow, what type of standard. Is it data that is given access to? – Are you giving access to your mobile phones via Google feeds? Or are you generating new data through actions or other forms, like advocating for actions through e.g. taking and submitting to the municipality a picture of something that is not going as well as it is supposed to? What tools are used to gather, manage and present it? Is this data temporary or permanent? Static or dynamic?
  • Third: The outcome and final destination of this data. This dimension includes constructs describing uses of this citizen-generated-data Here, we have identified three main classes of outcomes potentially enabled by citizen-generated data: i) Citizen-generated data that directly informs public policies, ii) Citizen-generated data for scientific knowledge discovery, iii) Citizen-generated data to raise awareness about topics that are either neglected or underrepresented in public debates.

The patterns that we have identified in the available report are probably some of the most positive contributions.

Sebastian Klemm: How can the taxonomy be applied?

Giovanni Maccani: At the moment, all 50+ initiatives in the taxonomy are displayed in an Excel worksheet where each element of the taxonomy has a column and each initiative is categorized within each element of the taxonomy.

You can search according to your interests, for instance „I want to only see citizen-generated data for biodiversity that contributes to scientific knowledge discovery in which there is a global platform and a dedicated mobile application.“

Moreover, this worksheet type of file is considered to be a living document. It comes together with a typeform survey in which people can submit new citizen-generated data projects that they are aware of or, for instance, that they are launching. Thus, following the report the further use of the underlying study is to keep this mapping resource alive and extend the integrated view of what is happening in Catalonia with respect to citizen-generated data. This will be one leg of the bigger project „Catalunya un País de Dades“.

The intention of this upcoming project is for Catalonia to be the focal point of a comprehensive data ecosystem strengthening the balance between demand-pulled and supply-pushed mechanisms.

Hence, the idea is to meaningfully take data that has been generated and provide it for final adoption and use. And use then is again, a complex construct in which you could have use for public consultation, for instance, or use for developing new commercial services. Obviously, the requirements that a piece of data needs to have to be used by either one or the other are completely different. If you want a developer to reuse the data for a new service, then you need data in a machine readable format with a given standard, metadata, navigable and so forth. Whereas, if you want to have open data for consultation by citizens, probably PDF is the best option.

We are starting to think meaningfully from the demand side of this ecosystem, as opposed to a supply-pushed perspective, which in my experience has been predominant in this field to date.


Contact Giovanni Maccani with regard to the Citizen-Generated Data taxonomy.

Download the study report „Support to the Mapping of CGD Cases and Actors for the Project Catalunya un País de Dades”

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