Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Open Government West Explores, “Who’s The Data For?”

by Matt Rosenberg March 30th, 2010

According to the “Unlocking Government” report released recently by the consulting firm Deloitte Canada, core principles of open government include these:

  • Data should be easily accessible online. In today’s world, open access to data means that they should be easy to find.
  • Data need to be offered in accessible formats. If the government provides access to new information through an interactive map, for example, users should also be able to parse the actual raw data (to reuse it in a new application) from this source.
  • Collaboration between government agencies is important. Public leaders should expect their data to be combined with data from other sources and used in unique and novel ways and should approach the prospect in a spirit of collaboration and creativity.
  • Governments should be open about being open. Agencies should not quietly put data online. Rather, they should tell the public what they are doing and why, while seeking their participation and engagement.
  • These excellent guidelines help underscore that open government isn’t just for the usual suspects; namely, certain public officials, advocates, wonks and geeks. (I use these terms lovingly, FYI). At a Saturday, March 27 “unconference” session at Open Government West in Seattle, titled “Who Is The Data For?,” systems thinker and user experience designer Bryce Johnson (right) highlighted a range of answers. Designers and advocates should bear in mind, Johnson stressed, that among open government users are media; new residents including “English As A Second Language” immigrants; visitors and local tourists; families and other residents; government agencies; government vendors, and other businesses. Another point made during the conversation was that all the current emphasis on data and data sets shouldn’t obscure that documents – good old basic, revelatory public documents – need to be front and center also. That’s the idea behind a searchable database named Public Data Ferret that we’ve developed and located at its own special hub on this blog.

    What should the front door to the house of open government look like? The Beehive State has a pretty good sense of it. Utah has transformed its main state government Web portal into an impressive open government site. Utah walks the talk on easy access to and accessible formats for public data. The “dashboard,” or main page array of entry points by category is powerful in its simplicity, and relevance. Right away, the participant is invited to walk down hallways to “State Spending,” “State Contracts,” “Lobbyist Info,” “Campaign Contributions,” “Public Meetings,” “Data Sources,” and “Legislation.” This is the way to frame things. Click on “State Spending” and you go straight to the state’s public finance transparency site, where you can quickly access an appropriations reports menu and then among other items, the FY 2010-2011 appropriations summary, which is remarkably comprehensible. Utah’s getting the framing and the content right.

    2 Responses to “Open Government West Explores, “Who’s The Data For?””

    1. Thanks for this recap Matt, I didn’t get to attend Bryce’s session, looks like it was a great one…thanks for the links to the other sites too…

    2. You bet, Walter. The Deloitte report has some more good stuff in it, on success stories from England, Wales, NYC, and Quebec. Kind of gets me more interested in seeing where larger numbers of Open Government success stories might be gathered in a central repository. And that Utah site looks as if it can be mined extensively for best practices.