[GSDI Legal Socioecon] Data and transparency: of governments and geeks
klance_remote at yahoo.com
Thu Feb 11 07:59:25 EST 2010
Data and transparency: of governments and geeks
The Economist print edition, February 4, 2010
In several countries more official data are being issued in raw form so that anybody can use them. This forces bureaucrats and creative types to interact in new ways.
The pace and methods used by governments to free up facts are much influenced by independent, open-source software designers. (One reason that English-speaking governments are ahead of others is that there are a lot of activist anglophone open-source programmers.) Most of the data sets offered by governments bear the stamp “beta”, suggesting that they are open to improvement. With unusual humility, bureaucrats are borrowing jargon from open-source developers.
In the past, governments have asked large companies, like LexisNexis and Thomson Reuters, to help them handle data better. But when free, machine-readable data become available, pretty much anyone can have a go.
But whatever governments do, the presentation of endless facts can fall flat unless there are independent developers who know what to do with them. As Mr Torkington, an open-source consultant in New Zealand, admits, failing to grasp this point led to disappointing results in New Zealand. In his enthusiasm for technology, he failed to think much about who would use the data he was posting, and why. A wad of facts was dumped in cyberspace, with no instructions or incentives to find good ways of using them. There they sit, unread by any machine. Even the geekiest types can be nonplussed when they are presented with data but no purpose.
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