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Montag, 31. Oktober 2011

Open Gov Data and Civil Participation - Part 2

You can find the first part of this post here.

OGD must be for everybody

Everybody should be given the opportunity to participate. As long as whole sections of society are excluded from the use of OGD either because they lack the education needed to make sense of such data or the technical means to access them, such an opportunity does not exist.

All the experts agree that in the internet society access to public data and the opportunity to make use of public data should be a basic human right. As Ole Winterman says, reflecting the consensus on the panel, "To have public data and to have the opportunity to use it is quasi a human right. There is absolutely no reason at all to hide public data – or non-personal data – from people who wish to engage with politics and science." John Wonderlich believes that this is a right which could – and should! – be taken up by government and political decision-makers. "Policy-making within government should certainly be affected by open data policies, since they empower the public to have access to the information that's needed to make people informed participants in government decision-making." Yet if people are to benefit from this, he sees that there must also be a willingness to allow them to become involved. "To take advantage of this fact, however, governments must be willing to allow public communities to participate in their work, which is something that people in positions of authority are only just learning to do."

Yet does the general public really want to engage with Open Government and do they have the skills needed to get involved with questions of governance and the development of society Andy Williamson is skeptical, "The problem lies in motivating people to want to have access (or even to be aware that they can have access) and then in giving them the information literacy skills to be able to use it." He doesn't think that developing useful applications that can evaluate particular data and present it in a readily understandable manner is in itself a satisfactory solution, because, as he says, what we really need is to put similar efforts into educating people and raising their awareness. "We need to do more to encourage young people to understand the power of data. Understanding open data needs to be part of the school curriculum!"

OGD creates jobs

Positive economic effects are given by OGD when, due to the publication of data and active citizen participation, the possibility of privatization can be used to reduce costs for the general public and create jobs in the private sector.

There is no consensus of opinion on the economic effects of open government but the panelists tend to doubt its capacity to create economic effects leading to a tangible increase in job opportunities. Andy Williamson is brisk in his dismissal: "I think this is a fairly weak argument. It might create a few jobs directly, and indirectly it might empower some businesses to grow in ways that they could not do without the data. But it's incidental effect, not a core benefit of open data."

In the private sector, buying and selling personal data is a profitable business. So perhaps the trade in public data could also be developed and give the economy a shot in the arm. With both positive and negative effects as Ole Wintermann admonishes, "Making a business out of OGD is not without its own internal contradictions. We should examine whether we should allow a price tag to be put on what once was public property." Jonathan Eyler-Werve points out the danger that there could be some governments which are selling access to their data catalogues and warns "This is not open data."

What Eyler-Werve would like to see instead is a level playing field where all parties are given equal opportunities and the same conditions for developing a business model for data. Because, as the newspaper publishing industry has shown, it's competition which makes information useful and cheap. "If data is available on platforms open to ALL citizens and all those who wish to build businesses, and is available on equal terms (i.e. for free and under an open license), the price of such information will tend to come down and access to it will be made easier, even with entrenched players like those in the newspaper industry." There would even be the possibility of enscribing free dissemination and reuse of data in "share-alike" clauses in the data license. "Public domain data is free to use in any form, including in "closed" products. Some people argue that a "share-alike" license is a good idea. "Share alike" says you can use it, but any derivative works must also be free to use and share. This has profound consequences on what businesses do with the stuff."

To be continued.