Open government: state of play for newcomers, April 2012

In preparation for my participation at the Gouvcamp conference, Paris 10 April, I’ve put together a little summary of some of my reading:-

Beth Noveck, Professor of Law, expert in public participation and collaboration, @bethnoveck: “Evolving Democracy for the 21st Century”

Many fascinating and revealing illustrations of the benefits of open data: social innovation, economic rocket fuel, user-based improvement of public services. Examples range from bicycle accidents improving road and safety planning, GPS data multiplying cost 100 times in value, to understanding the Chennai bus network.

Noveck demonstrates how open data leads to networking which enhances participatory government by making expertise discoverable, sharing tasks and roles, and enabling democratic social practices. The work of Civic commons and Wikitalia are given as examples of toolkit providers in these processes.

Overall, concrete examples are given of effective collaboration between government bodies and citizens to access resources that otherwise simply are not there. Noveck notes that there is a long way to go still to the ultimate goal of universal collaborative forms of government.

Catherine Howe, researcher and practitioner interested in getting the social web to do democratic things @curiousc: “Open by default”

In her definition of “open by default”, Catherine Howe describes 4 key elements of open government: i. open data, ii. open process, iii. open access, iv. open standards. Together they constitute a practical and moral form of “open practice” by providing: inclusion in politics, active participation, access to and involvement in policy and decision making, sharing and understanding mutual responsibilities (also in respecting privacy and establishing criteria for justified closed information). Since government is of the people and for the people, it seems very hard to envisage justified “closed government”: private lives should be just that, but government is public life.

Utah Transparency Project, student group at University of Utah

Utah Transparency and the five key items of best practice should serve to enable effective citizen engagement, in the words of University of Utah Professor Randy Dryer. These five propositions really seem fairly rudimentary and common sense, yet it would it appear such simple and small steps can make a huge difference.

Dominic Campbell, @dominiccampbell, FutureGov: “You say gov20, we say digital engagement”

This is a presentation demonstrating the variety of open data sources, projects and materials in the UK. Campbell provides information about many open data initiatives at different levels: councils, civil and defence agencies, health services, government departments; highlighting the gaps between official government and social activist open data provision. The presentation underlines the importance of bottom-up as opposed to top-down information sharing in achieving meaningful and effective open data.

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