Key areas of attention remain

September 25, 2012

The Federal Computer Week has brought my attention to a report from the Government Accountability Office in the USA entitled “ELECTRONIC GOVERNMENT ACT Agencies Have Implemented Most Provisions, but Key Areas of Attention Remain” (PDF, 574 Kb, 50 pages), hardly a slick title but it summarises the report in a long breath. The report talks in fairly woolly terms about how the OMB (Office of Management & Budget) and other federal agencies have taken actions to comply with the ten-year-old E-Government Act but concludes that:

“However, key areas of attention remain to accomplish the act’s purposes of promoting electronic government and use of other technologies. For example, while the federal government continues to take actions to improve transparency through various websites, we have reported on concerns with the accuracy and reliability of this information. Also, OMB has not met the act’s requirement for establishing a website and repository that are to provide information about research and development funded by the federal government, which would assist the public in tracking the government’s investment in basic research.”

The first issue is a matter related to on this blog before that open data is only of value if it is accurate and timely, it also needs to be of value to the citizen or those ensuring accountability. It is no good publishing data if its resultant analysis is of little or no value to the citizen. The second one will be of wider interest, although I am sure substantial duplication and waste would be revealed.

Fascinatingly for those in the UK the report also reveals that “according to a report published as part of the .gov Reform Initiative 56 agencies reported maintaining 1,489 domains and an estimated 11,013 websites” [Emboldening mine]. Although it admits most get to them via search engines, as if the quantity of sites that require maintenance, licensing and hosting does not matter! My personal issue when reading the report was that the action of the OMB issuing a memorandum requesting actions to be carried out by federal bodies would appear to be satisfactory, whether or not they occurred – has anybody checked? The fact that the OMB issues a memo requiring privacy or usability to be suitably managed appears to be enough, whilst I would hope at least a sample (out of the 11k plus) are physically checked for some consistency and compliance.

However, whilst drafting this a Tweet from Alex Howard (aka @digiphile ) points me to another new report – “Civil Society Progress Report on the US National Action Plan” (PDF, 650 Kb, 24 pages) which considers the government of the USA is at least partially meeting most of its targets, although it doesn’t mention opening up spending data on R&D investrments. This report, at least, makes a pretty good summary and advisory note of what to press on with federally in the e-government nation.

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Open data is a means

August 25, 2012

My thanks to digiphile for Tweeting about this blog posting from Ovum entitled ‘The landscape around open data and Gov 2.0 starts to take shape’. Without digging into the actual Ovum report there are some good points made in the blog post, primarily that moving to government-as-a-platform is more about culture than technology, but unlike Ovum I am less optimistic about the ability for government to make this leap within a time frame where the technology is current – I expect we’ll be talking about Gov 5.0 or 6.0 by the time the culture has started to adapt. The report importantly states that “Open data is a means, not an end”, and hence the title of this post.

All is not rosy in the report, it does list some of the “major obstacles, flaws and characteristics” that are masked by the excitement around the topic. These include spin and propaganda, privacy breaches, the challenges inherent within unstructured data and digitizing from hard-copy records, along with the “build it and they will come” mentality that wasted so much money in e-government. Some lessons might be learned from the years spent by the Latter Day Saints and genealogists attempting to get family history data online – chunks of it are still flawed due to transcription errors, crass assumptions are frequently made by users that result in them jumping to entirely unscientific conclusions from the flimsiest links between datasets and there is a great reliance on validity checks being made by those who might have some connection with the data.

Whilst the report concludes that there is no obvious answer to whether a  market is available around Gov 2.0 and open data, it still manages to remain optimistic – which as industry consultants I expect Ovum to do – they still have to make a living. However, I envisage this will remain the long hard road that e-government has been, full of potholes, wrong turnings and dead ends and in the end I question the value that the average citizen get out of it?