Open data or what?

August 14, 2011

Another recent paper on #opendata, this time from the Public Policy & Governance Review, Volume 2, Number 2, Spring 2011, by Justin Longo entitled “#OpenData: Digital-Era Governance Thoroughbred or New Public Management Trojan Horse”. This paper (following my previous post –Open, and better, data) also presents an alternative view of ‘open data’, identifying a further downside. Since I think it’s important that we don’t keep seeing ‘open data’, social media or whatever as the latest silver (blank) bullet to follow e-government, it’s another paper I’d like to bring to wider attention.

The paper identifies three main benefits to open data, in that it can permit third-party developed services, that it opens the evidence base to public view and improves transparency and accountability of both politicians and public servants. However, the paper takes pains to warn us that ‘open data’ for some advocates may be a way of bringing back elements of New Public Management (NPM), which is now more widely  accepted as a mistake, although there are still plenty of supporters amongst those managers who were brought up to believe in its values. In contrast, NPM is accepted by many to have made government increasingly complex, less efficient and stifled innovation within the public sector, whilst the use of ‘open data’ can be employed to increase competition, along with citizen involvement, and to demonstrate performance issues, some of the ideals of NPM supporters.

I suggested in a post in 2009 that NPM might return in another guise – “Au revoir NPM“, and this more recent paper indicates that this may be happening, but may result in a conflict with the more current model of Digital-Era Governance.

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Accountability

February 9, 2010

A report to appear amidst the grey literature in February is one from Localis entitled “For Good Measure – Devolving Accountability for Performance and Assessment to Local Areas“.

However, what worries this practitioner/researcher amongst all the proposals for a bright, lighter world is an issue raised in 

Dunleavy, P., Margetts, H, Bastow, S and Tinkler, J., (2006). “New public management is dead. Long live digital-era governance.” Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 16(3): 467-494.

Where, in the conclusions, on p.488 they ask “whether managers and political elites, long-educated and socialized in NPM approaches, will actually be able to change direction radically enough to fully exploit the potential of DEG reforms.” Where DEG is Digital Era Governance, a model that is e-government done the right way round without all the New Public Management (NPM) baggage of targets and boutique-bureaucracies that have undermined it. A particular concern of mine is that the existing local government management have grown up with NPM and got their jobs by supporting the regimen of performance indicators and inspection, how will they manage without it?

However, the report, along with providing a history of audit in local government requests a reduction of the increasing burden that it places on local authorities, such as the quantity of performance indicators and the indicators employed. Instead, the authors request the involvement  of  citizens (or as they describe them – residents). This needs the new regime to be prepared for co production, cooperatives and communication.