By Mark Frank, PhD Student in Politics & International Relations and WebScience.
On the 21st to 23rd of May I attended the International Conference for E-Democracy and Open Government 2014 (CEDEM 2014) in Krems in Austria. I was there because they accepted a short paper (what they call a reflection) written by myself and Phil Waddell. As far as I know, no one from Southampton, much less PAIR, has ever attended CEDEM although it has been going every year since 2008. So I thought it would be worth saying a bit about it.
Most of all – I highly recommend it. The conference title is a pretty good description. So if you are interested in the interaction between the Internet and Democracy then this may be a good conference for you. It is organised by the Danube University of Krems – which is an interesting university. It is aimed at continuing education for working professionals – postgraduate only and specialising in short or masters’ courses with a lot of part-time and distance learning. The main conference is always in Krems, although they also run an Asian version which moves from place to place.
It was a small conference (120 people and three tracks) and but very friendly and well-organised and of a high standard. As my interest is Open Data I concentrated on that track and found the majority of the papers to be valuable. With hindsight I think that ideally I would have spent more time in other sessions, as this track, while fascinating, was more technology oriented than I expected. For example a paper on ways of automatically assessing data quality and another comparing different platforms for presenting open data. The e-Democracy and e-Participation track was more concerned with the political implications of technology (this divide may reflect two different views of Open Data in the world at large). However, the keynote speakers and the brief presentations of the reflections presented a wide variety of perspectives on e-government from round the world. Alexander Gerber on Scientific Citizenship was a particular highlight, although I disagreed quite strongly with his thesis of upstream scientific engagement which seemed to imply that the direction of scientific research should be decided democratically. The small and specialist format seemed to permit keynote speakers who were less bland and more approachable than is often the case at large conferences.
The biggest benefit of any conference is always talking to the other attendees and here CEDEM 2014 really scored. The theme of the conference was well defined and not too broad so I found that I had common interests with almost everyone there. And everything about the three days made it easy to meet and talk. It is small and informal and there were numerous social events. The UK is a leader in Open Data and it is easy to neglect what is going on in the rest of the world. This was an excellent reminder that this is a truly global movement albeit with very different perspective in different countries.