Blog post

Lost In Transparency?

By Andrea Di Maio | July 22, 2009 | 0 Comments

open government data

Although I am on vacation, I keep receiving feeds and alerts from various blogs and publications, in between my teen age daughter’s short text messages asking to stay up with friends a little bit longer and unanswered calls to my younger son to know whether he’s still alive after a diving session.

I noticed that quite a few of these now revolve around the theme of transparency. Just look at this, this, this and this, all published on the same newsletter over the last two days. Of course Recovery.gov takes the lion’s share, after recent discussions on the contract awarded for the web site development. But more in general the issues of transparency, citizen engagement and crowdsourcing have been amongst the most intensely discussed (including on this blog) since when the Obama administration started its work.

Let me be very clear here: transparency is a very good thing, something that was overdue in the US and we would all need much more of around the world. However, as I already pointed out, transparency does not come for free. And, what is worse, it is probably never going to be enough.

While increasing momentum on transparency consolidates and creates further political capital, it will also cause significant stress to the machinery of government. Processes will have to create and expose more data to comply with additional requirements. Executives, managers and other government employees will be held accountable against a much larger set of metrics, and their decision-making processes will be potentially under scrutiny at every single step.

The inevitable question is: could transparency create so much additional overhead and cause enough disincentives to action by government officials to end up hampering the ability of government agencies to fulfill their missions?

We all understand and agree with the positive impact of transparency on helping us – the crowd – audit how governments operate and use their resources. But I am not sure there is sufficient appreciation that the crowd cannot replace the machinery of government any time soon, and striking the balance between greater transparency and greater efficiency is far from being easy.

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