For a long time, we’ve been hearing about “open government,” about how releasing more government data into the wild will help to solve deeply entrenched problems around government transparency and civic participation.
But it’s becoming clear that simply being open is not the answer. Maybe this is old news to folks who follow this more closely than I have been, but anyhow.
This crystallizes what I’ve seen seeing in a very succinct way:
Even the most idealistic geeks are beginning to understand that entrenched political and institutional pathologies — not technological shortfalls — are the greatest barriers to more open and participatory politics. Technology doesn’t necessarily pry more information from closed regimes; rather, it allows more people access to information that is available. Governments still maintain great sway in determining what kinds of data to release. So far, even the Obama administration, the self-proclaimed champion of “open government,” draws criticism from transparency groups for releasing information about population counts for horses and burros while hoarding more sensitive data on oil and gas leases.
And even when the most detailed data get released, it does not always lead to reformed policies, as Lawrence Lessig pointed out in his trenchant New Republic cover story last year. Establishing meaningful connections between information, transparency, and accountability will require more than just tinkering with spreadsheets; it will require building healthy democratic institutions and effective systems of checks and balances. The Internet can help, but only to an extent: It’s political will, not more info, that is still too often missing. [via Think Again: The Internet – By Evgeny Morozov | Foreign Policy]
Also, this presentation covers similar ground well — as the blogger states, “openness and transparency are not sufficient: they are the beginning of a virtuous civic-sense-building process which needs to be accompanied by other tools in order to have an impact.”
So we’re at a point where we recognize that releasing more government data will not in itself magically result in improved civic participation or greater transparency — rather opengov is at best one of many building blocks to help building healthy democracy and effective, accountable government. What then is the next step? How do we move beyond thinking that “open is the answer”?