Open by design

A very recent paper by Yu & Robison entitled The New Ambiguity of “Open Government” highlights one of the ongoing difficulties of the whole e-government and ‘open government’ debate, and so, for me, it’s not a new ambiguity but something inherent in the whole scheme of things. I’d already mentioned one of their papers in the ‘Invisible Hand’ in 2008, so the authors weren’t new to me either. Essentially, the paper proposes that there is an issue of semantics around the term ‘open government’ or ‘open data’, in that it can be open in at least two different senses – political or technical openness provides access to data, whilst philosophical openness provides transparent government, and it is possible to have the former without the latter. Robinson & Yu argue for clarity between the two in any usage. They try to remove the ambiguity around technical openness by labelling one ‘adaptable’, as Tony Roberts, as I related recently in Open Warfare,  uses the expression ‘ actionable’.

In contrast Fishenden & Thompson, also co-authors in 2010 of “Better for less: How to make Government deliver IT savings“, have written a paper entitled “Digital Government, Open Architecture and Innovation: Why Public Sector IT Will Never be the Same Again“, which largely ignores the semantic trap and instead creates another term ‘open architecture’. Building further on the Digital Era Governance (DEG) concept proposed by Dunleavy & Margetts, they recognise the failings of the New Public Management (NPM) dogma and the fact that it is still ingrained in government, whilst claiming that ‘open architecture’ will bring us nearer to DEG. I suggested in Accountability in 2010 that NPM was far from dead when the current public service leadership had all grown up with it, and were thoroughly tainted with its concepts, and as institutional isomorphism teaches us, it’s pervasive. In terms of ‘open architecture’ , we already have TOGAF, and that’s been there a while now, too. What we need is both philosophical/political openness so that the citizen can see why nothing is changing, along with the technical openness so that data, systems and architectures can ‘plug and play’.


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