Blog post

From Government as a Platform to Citizens as a Platform

By Andrea Di Maio | February 03, 2010 | 4 Comments

open government data

Yesterday I had a great conversation with the CIO of a large U.S. city. I was happy to see that he shared some of my views about the limitations of open data initiatives.

As I said a few times, while opening government data is great for transparency, what value it can create is yet to be discovered. Further, considerations about costs and risks rarely surface the discussions driven by open government enthusiasts.

This morning (my time) I found an interesting tweet by Tim O’Reilly (the inventor of the much popular definition of “government as a platform”), pointing to a blog post by Nat Torkington about Rethinking Open Data, which makes the same case I’ve been making for quite some time. What was even more remarkable is that in his tweet Tim says “Funny, I was in DC last week saying much the same thing”.

I do remember the discussion I had with Tim on this blog back in September 2009, when he looked like wholeheartedly supporting the open data approach, pretty much along the “if you build it, they will come” line, which Nat now criticized.

If Tim decided to take a more balanced view, this is great news, given how influential he is in the field. Maybe the other (Sir) Tim (Berners-Lee) who pulls the strings of open government in the UK could get some inspiration and advise the UK government about costs and risks before it’s too late.

My client conversation and Nat’s blog post made me think again about how to convey more effectively my point about the symmetry of government 2.0 (see the picture in a previous post). If one side of the relationship is “government as a platform”, the other side sounds like “citizens as a platform“. Citizens create data and engagement avenues that government can use pretty much like government provides data and creates engagement avenues. These two views are the yin and yang of government 2.0.

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  • Citizens as a Platform —

    Hmm, great theme. I think there’s a lot that could be said about this. If I’m getting the idea here, about what this phrase means — “Citizens as platform” — I’d be inclined to understand this as a kind of grass-roots coalescence coordinated over the internet, and coming together in ways that overcome some of the partisan divides that are paralyzing out current politics (I just heard Obama on MSNBC going over a bunch of reasons why this is happening).

    I’d say that social networking systems are beginning to offer the potential for large-scale political organizing of a different type than we’re used to — groups that come together not as expressions of some intensely partisan perspective, but who bring together people from any category or group, who simply want to be “good citizens” and work with their neighbors to get this country back on track.

    So, seen that way — a healthy and powerful “yin and yang” might emerge — government structure on one side — and a well-organized and powerful citizenry on the other. Thanks for the thought.

  • Eyal says:

    While looking at value is important, I suggest that open government will be a standard. A government wouldn’t allow itself to not be transperant because all the other cool kids are transperant also, and the citizens will demend it.

    And even if a data set doesn’t seems to be valuable at the moment, it might be in the future so there is no question of *if*, but of *when”.

  • @Bruce – thanks for capturing what I meant so effectively

    @Eyal – Indeed it will be a standard. But if governments do not set themselves to listen, it will realize only a fraction of its potential

  • Should the focus be on citizen or on citizenship?

    Citizenship is a responsibility. Not just a passive customer, but actually engaged. Technology allows this to happen far easier than in the past. For example, this weekend, the federal government will launch a multi-prong effort to . . . .How many people will participate – and I don’t mean the UFO seekers, marijuana legalizers, the Obama birthers, or the teabaggers. Real citizens, with responsible ideas to contribute meaningfully on how governnment can be more transparent and more participative.

    Need to reconceptualize the role of Americans from customers (where the relationship is based on transactions) to citizens (where the relationship is based on mutual responsibilities). Professor Don Kettl says government needs to move away from the “vending machine” model (where we insert money in the slot and out pops a service) to one more like a barn raising, where everyone contributes to the solution.

    I’ve been trying to noodle about the role of citizen in the Gov 2.0 world, and am trying to define roles and responsibilities beyond just voting and paying taxes. Here is a link to a list I’ve been developing, in a blog entry, “Redefining the Role of Citizens in a Gov 2.0 World:”