The dangers of mandating open government data

Relax…. We need open government data. It creates jobs and will result in operational efficiencies, reducing the cost of running government. Honestly, however, we have yet to truly demonstrate measurable cost savings through open data but I believe we will over the course of the next 12 – 18 months.

As you probably know, San Francisco recently passed a law requiring city departments to make their data open. The law is clearly well-intentioned and I initially applauded it. However, in giving it more thought I have changed my opinion.

The fact that it is well-intentioned, focusing on opening up government, is to be applauded, right? What could I possibly disagree with? The move, and similar ones being discussed across the world demonstrate a lack of strategic thinking, using a shotgun mentality versus a focused, goal-oriented, approach. At every level of government resources are constrained. People are often simply keeping up with current tasks and are now being asked to take on even more, often without the addition of new resources.

I know the same thing is happening at every business I speak with. However, well run businesses understand that strategic thinking is required and investments are made in an effort to maximize results. With the current approach the investment is made broadly with merely the hope that entrepreneurs will take advantage of some of the data to create jobs and grow the economy. True leadership is required more than ever and that leadership must focus on delivering results in terms of number of jobs created and cost savings being seen in government. Along these lines I would urge all cities and governments to fine tune their open data investments and focus in these areas only:

  • Health data.
  • Education data.

Each of these areas are critical to economic and individual success. I know, we all want another transit application that tells us when the bus will arrive. I am not knocking these applications,they are important. However, with finite resources it is important that we think beyond our individual departmental silos and take a look at the bigger picture. Would this mean shifting resources between departments? Yes. Will this mean potentially changing laws? Yes.

Government can choose to act simply as a platform without thought for how to best maximize investment. Better yet, it can act as a platform providing the key pieces of data most needed first, investing wisely, measuring the impact of the investment, and iterating. Which would you prefer?


Originally posted on Government in Action.

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