Opening Up Government Data

This weekend, I had the privilege of joining open government advocates from around the world to discuss the future of government data. Governments around the world produce a massive amount of information, and usually it’s held close to the chest rather than shared with the public. When it is shared with the public, it’s often done so in a way that limits the public ability to fully utilize that data. This prevents citizens from fully engaging in civic decision-making and from using the vast power of the internet to remix, re-visualize, and develop innovative perspectives on government information.
While I think it’s inappropriate for me to talk about most specifics of my time working in Congress for Chairman Waxman, I’ve developed a passion for open government and citizen access to government.
After gathering in Sebastopol, CA, we worked vigorously this weekend to propose a set of eight principles of open government data. My hope is that these principles are a starting point for serious discussion of how government entities can enhance the value of their data and fully open it to citizens.
While I won’t rehash all the principles here, there are a few key points I want to remark on.
The government’s data is your data. In a democracy, information produced by government belongs to citizens. I think we often forget that, and our government does too. We’re looking for a paradigm-shift that changes the presumption on the part of government from “name a good reason why we should release X” to “name a good reason why we shouldn’t.”
Not only should government’s presumption of release change, but they have a responsibility to ensure that information is readily available to the public. This means more than “we have a website.” You should be able to download, query, and remix government information as much as you want. For techies, this means bulk download, API, and consumer website access. For non-techies, think of it as retail versus wholesale; government should offer data at a retail level on their own website, but also allow bulk access to encourage the unknowable creativity that results from making data public on the web.
There’s much more to say and much more work to be done, but I think this past weekend was a good start.
Update: I’ve found a bit of time to read a few posts out there and I’m still searching for more.
Bradley Horowitz, Ethan Zuckerman, Micah Sifry, John Geraci, and you? (E-mail me or comment if you’ve written about this!)
(PPS – To everybody at the meeting [and other interested folks]: I’ve been trying to find you on Facebook so we can more readily stay in touch. You can find me first by clicking here.)

One thought on “Opening Up Government Data

  1. Senate Hearing discusses Web 2.0 to Improve our Democracy…

    Wow, I am really excited. Something amazing happened yesterday, Dec 11, 2007, for the American people, democracy, and my work. I will try to break it down for you in a simplified way. The story is pulled from several statements, 60 plus pages, and a fu…


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