Term 'open government' more murky than transparent, says paper
The term "open government" is used to describe a wide range of activities, but open data and transparency efforts could suffer as the meaning becomes less and less clear, according to a paper published Feb. 28.
Open technology and public accountability are "powerful allies," but "when open data is confused with open government, governments may be able to take credit for increased transparency simply by delivering open data technology," says a paper titled "The New Ambiguity of 'Open Government.'" The paper was accepted by the Social Science Research Network, which specializes in the publication of scholarly research.
Both concepts have merit and can stand alone, but its important to note that they are different, write report authors Harlan Yu, a computer science doctoral candidate at Princeton University, and David Robinson, who is enrolled in Yale Law School.
The paper notes that even former White House Deputy Chief Technology Officer Beth Noveck--an official who helped launch Data.gov--regrets adopting "open government" as the blanket term for open data innovation. The paper cites an April 2011 blog post where Noveck wrote that the Open Government Initiative and the Open Government Directive "were never exclusively about making transparent information about the workings of government," said Noveck. "It has generated too much confusion," she later added.
A government can be open by embracing transparency, even if they don't embrace technology. Similarly, a government can provide open data "on politically neutral topics even as it remains deeply opaque," write report authors. Blurring the boundaries between the two concepts dilutes the value of both, say Yu and Robinson, but the effects are most severe for transparency and accountability.
Now, open government policies no longer entail transparency, they write. A government can claim it is committed to openness and "placate the public's appetite for transparency by providing less nourishing substitutes," they write. Because government can fulfill on the promise of openness through a wider variety of activities, progress is much less concrete, notes the paper.
The paper proposes that governments should adopt clearer language that separates technological openness from political openness.
- view the abstract and click through to download a .pdf of the report
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