Today I run a round table in Australia with people coming from state and local government agencies. Part of the discussion was about how to use mashups on the portal owned by a Department of Tourism. One view was that the portal could act as a broker of information coming from different operators (travel agents, hotels, bus companies, airlines) to package relevant information for people who want to visit the region. It appears that in the past the portal was performing such a brokering task, but then government decided to step back and let the market operate (this was clearly well before we entered the current recession: although nobody said so, I would not be surprised if government were to run most of these industries in the coming months).
Two participants raised that web 2.0 and mashups in particular should be used to develop a new and more customer friendly version of the brokering portal. I did express my disagreement, suggesting that the right solution may actually be the complete opposite, i.e. making sure that the Department of Tourism provides as much public information as possible in order for other organizations (including travel agents and social networks) to mash that up and create new and valuable offerings.
It still surprises me in how many conversations government agencies believe they can and should play an active role in brokering somebody else’s information, and how little emphasis is put on providing their own in a more easily consumable fashion.
This being said, when we drilled down on issues like accountability, trust, service levels, those who were in favor of the broker idea agreed that they did not know how to select external information they could trust, and how to determine trusted sources without being perceived as unfair to others.
So is it more difficult to choose which public information should be made mashable, or what non government information should be mashed up? In my opinion, there is no single answer and, more importantly, no answer that applies across all government agencies and programs.