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Is Open Government Really Urgent?

By Andrea Di Maio | September 06, 2010 | 4 Comments

open government datae-government

Last Thursday I was involved in a conversation concerning whether a particular jurisdiction should introduce specific legislation or an action plan for open government. This jurisdiction is in a developing economy, facing numerous challenges that range from relatively high levels of corruption to high unemployment, from inadequacy of some infrastructure to high percentage of emigrants looking for jobs and opportunities abroad.

The jurisdiction is looking aggressively at information and communication technology as a means to accelerate development and possibly leapfrog in selected areas.

The question was how to prioritize open government against the many other technology-intensive initiatives they are considering: these include automation and reengineering of government processes to become more citizen-centric and business friendly and development of local computing facilities to support both government and enterprises.

The right way to answer that question and rate open government in their portfolio is to ask a different question: what strategic objectives that the jurisdiction has set for itself would be best achieved by deploying some form of open government plan?

One might say that greater transparency is highly desirable.  However “transparency” means a lot of different things.

At what level would transparency be more effective? To engage citizens in policy development or to provide a level playing field to all potential suppliers and prevent corruption in public procurement? Or to provide more information to emigrants and reconnect them with a view to re-insourcing skills? Or to nurture the development of service industries based on the use of open government data?

The problem with open government is that nobody can say it is worthless and, as a principle, everybody would buy into it. However, when it comes to articulating its return on the investment, both the nature, the amount and the timeframe for the return are difficult to predict.

Indeed, open government is a leap of fate. The question is: is it a leap you can afford?

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4 Comments

  • Flavia Marzano says:

    IMHO the “right” need is Open Data like http://www.dati.piemonte.it/

  • Craig Thomler says:

    Of course with citizens and organisations having a range of online tools at their disposal as well, and being very able to expose government corruption and create their own sites to share information, governments – in the long-run – don’t have much choice.

  • Luigi Reggi says:

    I agree with Craig Thomler that open government is a global process somehow unavoidable in the long-run and should get at least the same priority of ‘traditional’ e-government. The good news here is that open government policies are much less expensive than internal processes reengineering or the development of local computing facilities. So they are definitely worth a try.

  • Doug Hadden says:

    Andrea,

    This seems like a rather antiquated way to look at Government 2.0. The ROI calculations of the previous media are usually not relevant with the new – one only needs to think back to the ROI discussions about PDAs, PCs, photocopiers, fax machines, world processors, telephones etc. The key transformative effect here of open data and Government 2.0 is more about Economic Value Add.

    IT investments such as financial applications or document management systems have been evaluated on a closed system basis. In other words, there is a need that can be satisfied by technology that will save money, improve productivity or improve some outcome. Many look at open data and wonder what it will be used for. That’s because the system is no longer closed. Open data provides all sorts of unintended consequences. Citizens and business will make productive use of open data beyond what the data and underlying information system was designed to do.

    The notion of information silos is more than a technical one. It is also a mental model that prevents many from visualizing how the data can be used. Many of the discussions about how open data can be used sounds like the early PC or Internet days. On the other hand, the notion of “build it and they will come” may not be the most effective alternative.

    I think that the value of open data will prove to have unexpected and unintended value. So, it will not be necessary to determine the extent of this value to financially justify an open data initative. Using EVA techniques should be able to identify the viable “low hanging fruit” of how open data could be used by businesses, citizens, civil society and other government organizations to better answer important questions. And, it should be analyzed outside the silos – in other words, the aggregate of open data initiatives – what the data, when combined, could be used for.

    An example of an urgent open government/open data initiative is the International Aid Transparency Initiative. The purpose of IATI is to follow the money throughout the aid lifecycle combining information from donors, govenments, and NGOs. Aid effectiveness is urgent and critical. Each stakeholder could complete an ROI analysis and determine that the cost/benefit, for their intended purpose, is not overwhelmingly positive. Yet, in aggregate: powerful.

    I’ve been reading concern about how consulting firms can make money in Government 2.0. Also, about the costs to government for open data. So, the “market” seems to consist of the extremes of those who viscerally believe and those that cannot visualize the value. That seems to be a great opportunity for analysts like yourself.