Over the last two years, federal, state and local governments (not necessarily in this order) have been taken by the open government frenzy, either by design/mandate or by imitation and me-too effect.
As a consequence, we have seen plenty of data.gov.<your_favorite_country_here> web sites blossoming with increasing quantities of public data in raw, open formats, ready for consumption. To accelerate consumption and show the value of this data, quite a few governments have launched application contests to reward innovative ideas in extracting value from this data. The recognized father of all application contests was AppsForDemocracy launched in DC by the then CTO, now Federal CIO Vivek Kundra, while the most recent ones I’ve heard about is the one launched in Edmonton after the one in Victoria, Australia awarded its winners earlier this week.
As I wrote in the past, wearing my typical analyst cynical hat, response to these contests has not been overwhelming. Sure we have seen a handful of original ideas, but often far from being ready for prime time, or difficult to sustain in the longer term.
Interestingly enough, as budget constraints become tougher, government organizations start asking themselves whether these open initiatives are really worthwhile. There is a general sense that they are the right thing to do, but increasing worries about their costs and potential risks.
Toward the end of this week I had a couple of interesting conversations with clients (a federal US agency and a regional authority in Europe), which revolved around how to prove the value of open data. One of the clients is already building a matrix that links open data sets to agency strategic objectives, and the other is also thinking along the same lines.
One question was particularly relevant: even if we have a rigorous and transparent prioritization process to publish our data, how should we behave if we have an explicit request from the public to have certain data published?
My take on this is that the same principles should apply. Those who demand certain data to be urgently opened should be able to tell why and what value that data would create for the community.
It is time to move open government from being good to being useful.
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