Open data, open government, and the truth behind transparency

A recent post and a not-so-recent paper that, among other things, sets out to distinguish between "open data" and "open government" in terms of actual meaning, usage, and potentialities.

From Nextgov:

The increased focus on open data, especially since the start of the Obama administration, has caused an identity crisis for some transparency purists who point out that governments can have strong open data records while being otherwise opaque or even repressive.

Saudi Arabia, for example, launched an open data portal in 2011. The site is full of spreadsheets detailing the oil-rich desert kingdom’s retail trade and agricultural grants. There’s nothing there, though, about the government’s murky internal operations, women’s access to education or the working conditions of foreign laborers.

And, from the Social Science Research Network:

“[O]pen government data” might refer to data that makes the government as a whole more open (that is, more accountable to the public), but might equally well refer to politically neutral public sector disclosures that are easy to reuse, but that may have nothing to do with public accountability. Today a regime can call itself “open” if it builds the right kind of web site — even if it does not become more accountable. This shift in vocabulary makes it harder for policymakers and activists to articulate clear priorities and make cogent demands..

This essay proposes a more useful way for participants on all sides to frame the debate: We separate the politics of open government from the technologies of open data. Technology can make public information more adaptable, empowering third parties to contribute in exciting new ways across many aspects of civic life. But technological enhancements will not resolve debates about the best priorities for civic life, and enhancements to government services are no substitute for public accountability.