Saturday, November 7, 2009

Open Data - the three-legged stool

It was great to see the launch of www.data.govt.nz this week – an official catalog of New Zealand government data sources. It follows the launch of similar sites in the US and Australia. The NZ site includes a discussion forum, and the opportunity to suggest data sources, both of which suggest an openness to working with the wider community. Australia offers an an RSS feed of newly added datasets, and US offers featured tools, both of which could enhance the NZ site.


All three sites come from a world view that has government at the centre, and the sole source of information. While that perspective is understandable when you are working in government, there is a risk that the mental model of a hub and spoke (with government as the hub) will constrain co-creation.


I prefer the mental model of a three legged stool for Open Government Data - supply of data, demand for data and tools to work with the data; all are needed to create success. The three legs can develop at different speeds, but without a growth in all three, we will not have an effective result.


We are seeing an exciting growth in the area of tools – check out examples such as Gapminder, ManyEyes, Swivel, and Datamasher. Both Australia and the US have competitions for open source tools, and there continues to be re-use of software and ideas between governments (such as the Parliament mashup and For your Information). So that leg of the stool is strong and growing.


There is emerging evidence of political commitment to open government data. The launch of data.govt.nz is an important milestone in strengthening the supply side of data, and was launched by the Minister of Internal Affairs, Hon Nathan Guy. In Canberra, the Hon Lindsay Tanner, Minister of Finance and Deregulation said at the recent gov2.0 conference that the Govt 2.0 TaskForce is fundamental to the Rudd government and his role as Minister of Finance. The release by SSC of the Government Open Access Licensing (NZGOAL) discussion draft is another positive step. So we also have a demand side that is getting steadily stronger.


In the USA, there is also a strong demand side – initiatives and institutions like the Sunlight Foundation, OReilly Radar, Governing People, and a myriad of others, reflect a society and economy with a high level of energy and funding from within the community, demanding better results from government. In New Zealand, possibly as a result of our size, there is a much less well developed not-for-profit sector, and organisations in the voluntary sector are fragmented and stretched. The 2020 Communications Trust has been a steady presence in the community side of ICT for many years, and I am delighted to have recently joined as a trustee. While there is a small group of enthusiastic participants in the open government movement, this leg of the stool needs strengthening.


Andrea deMaio blogged this week that the critical succes factor for govt 2.0 is to let it go, and letting go is pretty scary. We need to ensure that the third leg - the community - is strong enough so that when government does let go, the stool is stable enough to remain upright.

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