by Andrea Di Maio | September 15, 2008 | Comments Off on Government Mashups: How Granular?
Earlier today I had an interesting conversation with a local government CIO who is exploring the potential of Web 2.0. It was refreshing, as we did not jump straight into the usual blogs and wikis stuff that seems to be so interesting for many, but we focused on how web 2.0 can be used to make public information easier to access and leverage in many different ways.
At the beginning he said that many opponents of Web 2.0 are concerned with security and privacy of citizen information. While these are important concerns, I believe that the main challenge for government today is how to deal with public information. Such information is already exposed (or – in many cases – buried) in hundreds of government portals and web sites. What web 2.0 does is to give a chance to people, businesses, intermediaries, information aggregators, to decide how they want to leverage which information. If they can access more granular data as opposed to large, monolithic data dumps or reports, if they can mash up different government data with a number of non government sources (such as maps, ratings, pictures and so forth), they can create completely new avenues to exploit and benefit from that information.
However government IT organizations must exercise caution. First of all, they need to understand which data should be made mashable: something like a mashup contest can certainly help. Second, they need to determine what is the ideal granularity of mashable information to maximize its value and to minimize the risk of misuse or inappropriate use. In fact, the more granular the information, the easier it is to use it outside its context. For instance, average percentage of death under surgery across a whole jurisdiction is less useful than deaths per type of surgery per hospital, but the latter does not only expose performances of individual hospitals, but allows to combine that with data such as the density of private hospitals, the political orientation of hospital directors, public funding by hospital and so forth, potentially creating an embarrassing picture. A mashable map of city public transportation is great, but if it gets used to show the correlation between timetables, routes, and drink driving accidents, it may paint an undesirable picture.
Is this a reason why governments should simply avoid mashups? Certainly not. But they have to be fully aware of the consequences: once mashable information is out, there is no mediation role that they can play, nor can they credibly police the use of public information. In most cases, the value unleashed by freeing information will be much greater than the risk of inappropriate use. But incidents will occur.
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