The Value of Having Values: Artifacts of Normative Knowledge as Instruments of Collective Self-Governance for Data Flows

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Given data’s characteristics as a non-rivalrous, inexhaustible resource, some interpretation is necessary to apply Ostrom’s design principles to the challenge of data governance – starting with the question of boundaries. Building upon the Governing Knowledge Commons framework, along with related work by Helen Nissenbaum on contextual integrity, this paper argues that boundaries around data resources can be drawn through the intentional development and application of values statements. Since the potential value of data often increases in relation to the number of its users and potential uses, values statements set normative expectations around the kinds of processes and outcomes that are considered desirable – what do we think is good?, and how do we agree to do this work? These statements function as a kind of boundary object that can give shape to a community’s identity and, in turn, aid in the development of new institutional strategies to protect that identity. After considering this function in the context of examples – ranging from abstract signifiers such as “open data” and “smart cities,” to bundled declarations such as the CARE principles, to specific examples of environmental data commons – this paper concludes by offering practical guidance for the development of values statements through democratic writing processes and collective choice-making.



knowledge commons