Insights from #IODC Last Week from @SunFoundation

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Unfortunately, I was not in attendance, but I still followed last week's International Open Data Conference with some interest. (It helped that I was out of work at the University of Texas's Summer Statistics Institute, and I could be on my laptop during classes.) I spoke to one professor here on campus who described it as "preaching to the choir"; indeed, several attendees seem to have walked away with that impression.

This piece from the Sunlight Foundation came across my social media feed and struck me as particularly astute:
Openness of government is a value that NGOs, civic hackers, journalists and policymakers within this field want to work toward...However, we still haven’t gotten to the core of how we can use data to shake unjust power structures and make governments more effective and accountable. Skeptics have coined the term “open-washing” as attempts for governments to be perceived as open, while keeping all important decisions and actions closed. And, alongside many others, we commonly complain that “openness” always seems to end at high-value datasets by which governments may feel threatened.
It’s much easier to show the impact of a tool in terms of how many people used it than to show how open data has made citizens’ lives better and transformed government in the long term — and demonstrating value is something that both civil society organizations and governments are under constant pressure to do. Unfortunately, though, the impact of this work will not suddenly become visible overnight, especially given the problems we are trying to solve. At the core of it, we’re trying to use data to solve an age-old problem: How can government serve its citizen better?

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