Yesterday I delivered the closing keynote at the GovCamp event in Canberra, where government innovators, academics and folks from private sector met to discuss open government and other innovations in the public sector. This followed a GovHack held the days before, where a number of winning applications leveraging open data had been selected.
I got to the conference site just half an hour before the event and discovered the whole day had been pretty much about reiterating the importance of open data and other related open government initiatives. I felt that my slides and messages would not be entirely welcome, but it was too late to back down.
As I went through my 30 minutes, I delivered a few key messages:
- Open data is hardly sustainable by using solely “if we build they will come approach”
- After several years of application contests and hacks, there has been very limited impact and transformational effect: of course there are exception but there are very few considered how many cities and states and countries have been running contests
- Nonetheless going open is the right thing to do, but we have to build mechanisms that guarantee sustainability.
- Therefore we need to connect open data initiatives to the use of open data inside government, e.g. using it to break silos and improve interoperability as well as by directly engaging employees into using that to solve their everyday’s problems (i.e. they should be involved in govhacks much more than external application developers are).
- Also government must be both a producer of open data and a consumer of social data (i.e. data made available by citizens on their own social networks).
- The place where all this comes together is the government employee’s workplace: open data and related apps as well as social media are all tools that they may wish to use to be more effective and productive at doing their job.
Also, all this won’t happen just because it is cool or because it is the right thing to do. It will happen and will stick if and when government agencies will be faced with challenges that cannot be solved with traditional processes and traditional means.
Surprisingly, I made it out of the event in one piece despite having probably disappointed quite a few“open data templars” there. I am convinced that these events remain very important to keep the lights on and pursue the development and impact of open data initiatives, but until when a clearer and more urgent connection with real and urgent government business problems will be created, they will remain nice-to-have rather than must.have.