Earlier today I read an interesting article about the importance of story telling in making open government data alive for people who are not in the business of following government.
The article was making reference to an interview that Tim Berners-Lee gave to the press in the UK, where he clearly pointed out that the primary users of open government data are going to be members of the press, hence advocating that they should be better at analyzing data.
The article gave an interesting spin to his interview though, highlighting that Sir Tim “has a vested interest in proving the utility of freed government data” and concluding that
if the data being released by governments these days reflects life as it is being lived behind the scenes and on the ground, then we have to imagine that there’s vastly more potential in the data beyond just creating pictures (no matter how rich the data they contain is) and revealing incidents of what looks like government corruption. At the risk of being reductive, politics is about stories. Life is, in many ways, about stories. It’s a constant throughout the history of our species, at least in its more modern stages. […]. But, generally speaking, the story-telling part of the equation gets far less attention in the open government movement than the importance of story telling would seem to dictate.
At last, somebody else is pointing the finger on how reductive the current open government movement is.
I was having a conversation with a few IT executives in Australia today, who expressed doubts about the value of publishing hundreds of thousands of data sets on web sites like data.gov or data.gov.uk (by the way, this seems to have become a competition between who is publishing more data, does not matter for what).
Are we doing all this to ultimately provide value to citizens? Or just to give more fuel to journalists, political activists, bloggers, advocacy groups to draw more readers or supporters? Are normal people like you and me getting anything concrete out of this? Will we or our children ever get more engaged once we are drawn in data or bombarded by more factoids that different groups pull together to make their point?
I’d love to see open government to turn toward making government not only more transparent, but more effective and efficient. I’d love to see open data to have a reason that goes beyond just creating a better tool for the press and other pretty small target audiences.
But is there really anybody seriously leading that charge at the political level, having the guts to demonstrably focus open government on having an impact on each and every one of us? And for how long will this be left to anonymous and courageous government employees who understand this and do so almost undercover, below the radar screen, while their executives and political leaders – as well as many self-proclaimed government 2.0 experts – keep making their bold pronouncements on publishing more data sets, launching more application contests and –ultimately – ticking more boxes?