Opening the data

August 5, 2012

In March 2012 I reported in a post entitled “Open by design” a paper by Harlan Yu and David Robinson entitled “The New Ambiguity of Open Government“. A discussion of the paper has now appeared on the World Bank blog by Anupama Dokeniya entitled “Opening Government Data. But Why?” [A thank you to Jacques Raybaut at en.europa-eu-audience for the heads-up]. This is also even more relevant given the UK Public Accounts Committee report back so recently which was linked to and commented upon in Transparent e-gov.

Dokeniya quotes a recent blog post by Nathaniel Heller who stated that “The longer we allow ‘open government’ to mean any and everything to anyone, the risk increases that the term melts into a hollow nothing ness of rhetoric”. A similar debate occurred on the W3C list, and it is long been the case between e-government and e-governance. Heller brings in three ‘dimensions’ – information transparency, public engagement and accountability – all three of which might be absent from some ‘implementations’ of open government. He also emphasises that ‘open government’ itself is technology neutral.

The final paragraph from Dokeniya is important: “Transparency policies will achieve little if the political system does not create the incentives for officials to be sanctioned when corruption is exposed, for service providers to be penalized when poor performance or absenteeism is revealed, or for safeguards or structural reforms to be adopted when evidence of systemic governance problems emerge.” Essentially open data done well is a potential catalyst for change, any less than that it is a smokescreen around politicians, policy and the bureaucracy.



November 19, 2009

A recent post (11 November 2009) on the World Bank’s blog brings into play another “e” word! This time its E-Parliament. Paul Mitchell, who recently spoke at the World e-Parliament 2009 Conference in Washington D.C., USA,  is the author and is very confident of the value ICT might have, although he does state that it’s about providing better service delivery.

As I’ve stated before, having read numerous papers and books on e-government, e-governance and similar phenomena, I struggle to see how, apart from a little increasing transparency, anything will change when the representatives of representative democracy are going to be unwilling to hand over some of their decision making powers to the electorate.

Two recent posts on the E-government Bulletin reinforce this from different angles: ” The Future of Politics: A Gathering Storm” and “Political Parties Could Be ‘Swept Away’ By Social Networks“. I suspect both are a storm in a tea-cup, since the main result of this lack of transparency appears to be citizen apathy.

Developing e-government

August 16, 2009

Fumiko Nagano writing on the World Bank’s blog describes a chapter from a new book the Bank have published. The chapter by Deepak Bhatia, Subhash C. Bhatnagar and Jiro Tominaga is entitled ‘How do Manual and E-Government Services Compare?’ and is a study of recent learning from India.

India may have issues with poverty that put many nations to shame but it has been employing e-government in many different ways to overcome issues with exclusion and communication across its vast and varied sub-continent, so the research is equally appropriate in the so-called ‘developed’ world.

The freely available chapter is only 14 pages, so you can read it for your self but Nagano picks out the key points in the blog. In brief, these include:

“citizens should be made owners of e-government programs”

“analyze user needs and demands”

The blogger notes at the end a comment by the editor of the publication, Christine Zhen-Wei Qiang, that it takes time for people and business to figure out how best to use ICT and this also requires training and adjustment. My added comment here would be that unless the application is designed in consultation with the potential users, the way they decide to use it might be by deciding not to use it…

One major improvement from e-government was the reduction in bribes, something I trust we don’t have too much of in the west?