Dienstag, 25. Oktober 2011

Open Gov Data and Civil Participation - The Missing Link

Photo: Future Challenges CC BY-SA-2.0

When preparing the Global Economic Symposium in Kiel together with the colleagues from the Kiel Institute for the World Economy we had the opportunity to create the GES-magazine (thanks go to Ulrike Reinhard and her team for this really great support). It was obvious - and still is - that the title of the symposium - New Forces in Global Governance - has a strong connection to the Arab spring. But we have to go another step ahead. Not just thinking about changes in the Arabian countries but also in the western democracies. #Occupywallstreet is a strong indicator for the evidence that there has to come democratic reforms also to other countries. One month ago our team - Futurechallenges.org - supported the Open Gov BarCamp in Berlin. We had the great opportunity to invite Birgitta Jonsdottir as a keynote speaker. Iceland is a very optimistic example for showing the possible steps towards a more open government and governance. The big questions is how we can combine open data, open gov and social media to a proper tool for steering modern democracies. The text below was an article in the above mentioned GES-magazine. It deals with that question. Maybe you can find some interesting insights? Please take a closer look. Two more parts will follow the next days. The text stands under CC-license.

Open Government Data and Civil Participation 
From database to citizen empowerment

Jonathan Eyler-Werve, Global Integrity / USA
Andy Williamson, Digital Strategist / UK
Ole Wintermann, Bertelsmann Stiftung / Germany
John Wonderlich, Sunlight Foundation / USA

Host: Gudrun Porath

Open Government Data

Like a huge wave this movement is now breaking across the whole world as governments, public administrations and organizations everywhere start to make statistical data on public affairs available to everyone on the internet. These initiatives are variously called 'Open Data', 'Open Government' or 'Open Government Data'. Are they just different terms for one and the same movement aiming to give citizens more transparency and greater opportunities for participation

We need to tread cautiously here because the fact is we're still a long way away from a single widely accepted definition and uniform universal standards.

"There are two concepts mashed together", says Jonathan Eyler-Werve, director of Technology and Innovation at Global Integrity, an independent nonprofit organization tracking governance and corruption trends around the world. "Many advocates of the Open Government movement would only speak of data catalogues. More seasoned representatives, however, would equally include such issues as public gatherings, laws on freedom of information, and obligations to disclosure." Eyler-Werve is in favor of a more nuanced approach yet also sees that the "confusion is understandable as there are a lot of turf wars being waged on how these terms are used."

Talk about data and the issue of data security is never far behind. What would happen, for instance, if the mining of public databases could only be done by profit-oriented companies who also control access "Are we really comfortable with the idea of public data being controlled by private, for-profit organizations" asks Dr. Andy Williamson, a UK-based digital strategist. Can competition and equal access rights for all citizens ever be reconciled How can civil participation be made possible and what can it achieve

OGD needs civil participation

OGD and civil participation are intricately intermeshed. Just making OGD freely available is not enough in itself because at the same time the basis for active citizen participation also needs to be established.

All the panelists agree that we can only truly speak about open data when all citizens have equal rights to access and use the data published. As Andy Williamson summarizes, "Open data is by its nature not open unless the public has access and can use it" However, John Wonderlich goes a step further when he says that it's the quality of data and the way it's prepared that ultimately decides on the way it's used. "Broadly speaking, I'd say that open government data is systematically collected, digital information that the government shares with the public in a way that maximizes reuse and analysis." The panel also agrees that the obligation to disclose public data needs to be enshrined in law along with the right of public access. Andy Williamson thinks "The key is that we need frameworks to ensure openness and protect a public right to datasets. There will always be data that is not available but we need protocols to manage the grey areas." Delays are often caused by negative dismissive attitudes on the part of members of the government or top civil servants while the lack of an effective framework can hinder publication of open data or even completely block it. John Wonderlich thinks election times are an excellent opportunity to push for realization of such measures. "We have to try to get government officials to pursue real change in those brief windows when they're willing to take on new challenges and before other political concerns become more pressing."

Open data that are unused fail in their purpose of creating transparency and civil participation. "Currently we are facing the challenge of bringing technically minded people together with the kind of end user who only needs a user-friendly tool" is how Ole Wintermann describes the technical agenda. "This is why it's not good enough just to provide raw data. We also need to have some statistical background on interdependent megatrends worldwide. Only on the basis of such data is it possible to create appropriate answers for questions which affect people worldwide."

To be continued.