As I wrote in a recent post, some if not most of the activities supporting the Open Government Directive are under threat as a consequence of the difficult budgetary situation. More recent news show that the funds available for Data.gov, the IT Dashboard and some of the cloud-related initiatives may be 8 rather than 2 million, but still way short of what would be needed to keep all the lights on. The Federal CIO, in a recent interview to Federal News Radio, admitted that they will have to make tough choices.
On the other side of the pond, the European Journal of ePractice – one of the activities that the European Commission funds to support best practice exchanges in the area of e-government – just published a comparative study of open data policies in five countries (i.e. US, Australia, UK, Denmark, Spain) and, despite presenting several areas of potential impact, it admits that
[…] many policy makers recognize that the precise economic impact of open data for their country, and specific sectors or organizations, remains largely unclear. Impact studies at both the meso and micro levels are lacking and, since the macro studies use different indicators to estimate the economic impact, the calculations differ substantially […]
Desk research by the research team revealed that even less evidence is available on the social and democratic effects of open data policy. […] Some studies found that government transparency increases trust in government (as people perceive that they have a stronger control over government) and other studies found that it decreases trust in government (as more government failures are identified). The causal relation between open data and democratic participation is far from clear. […]
The conclusion is even more interesting
All in all, one has to conclude that evidence of economic, social and democratic impacts of open data policy is still immature or lacking. More research is needed in order to place a focus on open data policy, decide on the use of certain instruments and reach the desired impact.
This means that open data may have an impact, but more research – hence more money – is required to figure out how. Unfortunately I suspect that money cannot become but harder to justify unless results can be shown earlier rather than later.
As I have said a few times, almost inevitably getting pushback from open government supporters, it is imperative that open data initiatives focus on solving problems that government has now rather that on pursuing potential value that may be realized in the longer term.
Interesting enough, doing so does not require anything that has not been piloted already to push the “government-as-a-platform” agenda.
All it takes is:
- Focusing application or idea contests or other forms of outsourcing on clearly defined problems that government needs to solve (e.g. making a service affordable, preventing crime at a lower cost, catching non-compliant taxpayers, reducing the cost of long-term care). This also implies pulling the plug on unfocused application contests that software developers love.
- Engaging internal government resources in driving or moderating these initiatives, rather than leaving them out of the equation assuming that their intervention may “corrupt” transparency. This implies a diminished role for open government specialists and consultants, and a more prominent one for government employees.
- Using external data collected, published, rated by citizen communities, rather than just open government data. This implies less spending on opening data and more effective social media strategies.