Open Government Data – Separating “Data” from “Government”

Open Government Data (OGD) is the new hope. Many nations have developed, or are on the verge of developing open government data platforms with an aim to improve and potentially transform the manner in which their government is run. US, UK and even developing countries like Chile, Ghana have joined the open government data bandwagon. Obama’s Open Government Directive designed to implement the principles of “transparency, participation, collaboration” within the operations of US administration is a true testament of the value governments see in this initiative.

In spite of this focus unfortunately the terrain of open government data is still relatively unfamiliar. To achieve this goal, Yale ISP Working Paper titled, “The New Ambiguity of Open Government“, by Harlan Yu and David G. Robinson attempts to dissect the aspect of data from government to help us understand the domain of open government data better.

As per the paper, data and government are visualized as two dimensions of the open government data, and the key features of the open government data are:

  • Data Dimension – Easily accessible and reusable public sector data.
  • Government Dimension – Promote government transparency and enhance public delivery.

The data and the government dimension along with some OGD initiatives examples are shown in the matrix below.

Each of these initiatives has different levels of data adaptability and political/social nature, and hence, different open government data initiatives fall within different quadrants in the matrix. The governments must aspire to share “adaptable data” with an aim to enhance governmental transparency and “service delivery” to its citizens. Therefore, the more the initiatives fall in the upper half of the matrix the better is the open government data platform.

The paper gives the example of Hungarian cities of Budapest and Szeged which provide bus transit schedules and argues that such data is both open and governmental but this “has no bearing on Hungarian government’s troubling lack of transparency.” In light of the above example, the paper argues an important point that simply providing “platform independent, machine readable, and reusable data” does not make a government “open and transparent.” What matters is the nature of public sector data the governments make available?

The paper also separates the technological dimension of OGD from its political dimension and argues that “separating the ideal of adaptable data from that of transparent politics” is an important aspect to help us understand the nature of OGD and the benefits it can bring. Hence it’s critical that OGD practitioners and policy makers consider technology as an enabler and make room for human concerns as it’s not technology, but people, organizations and governments that will determine what benefits OGD brings to all. Certainly interesting times lie ahead on how OGD evolves in various nations!

Interested to view comments on how people feel

  • the domain of open government will evolve
  • what aspects of public sector data various government will share with its citizens and with what aims
  • will there be a difference in the nature of data made available OGD initiatives in developing and developed countries

*The matrix and all the quotes in the article are taken verbatim from the paper titled, “The New Ambiguity of Open Government.”


About Ankit Sharma

Born in Kashmir, Alumni of London School of Economics, Currently working for the Royal Bank of Scotland, Living in London with absolute passion and hope in the user of Information Technology to solve social problems.
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