The importance of unawareness

Berlin bike parking

The city of Berlin has recently asked to its inhabitants what they think about open data in an online poll. Voters were asked which open data they would prefer to have access to and what they would do with that (just read them, or spread the information to other people?) In a few weeks, the municipality has gathered around 1300 votes. The results are consistent with another poll, at a national level, realized by SAS on a representative sample. 92% of the Berlin sample would access open data, if possible, and half of the interviewed people declared that they would use the data, editing them for other people. Voters have shown to be more interested in data concerning the city planning, the administration and the environment. Few people have shown interest for pets, consumer counseling or family data (no matter what this means). The Berlin poll is probably skewed toward highly educated, affluent internet users. But is this the most efficient way of leveraging people awareness to improve the urban quality of life?

Such a poll will persuade the city administration to facilitate the access to data in such highly requested fields, hoping that this will have a positive impact on urban life style. However, there may be other overlooked fields whose impact on quality of life is even greater, and they do not emerge in a poll. A poll shows what people are more aware of in term of quality life. But what about their unawareness? As far as people are not concerned by public transportation, for example, they will underestimate its impact and will not ask to the municipality to know more about it. Why should a car heavy-driver bother about bus frequency, after all? But could we honestly affirm that his life quality is unaffected by trasportation policies?

So, polls are useful, of course. But asking people the answer sometimes is not enough: you have to provide sensors, let people produce data – even without knowing it -, collect opinions and finally analyze, analyze, analyze. You may get different, surprising results with respect to an opinion poll. Our ignorance is more relevant than our awareness.

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