David Eaves is an app inventor, philosopher, negotiation specialist and one of the world’s leading proponent of Open Government.  Open Government for David consists of making government more transparent, accountable and collaborative. 

To give birth to Open Government he, like all good social entrepreneurs, works in the grey zone of ambiguity, serendipity and unpredictability.  In his case, at the intersection of open source communities, civic engagement advocates and the custodians of information systems and data sets of government.  He understands that, “ social media, web 2.0, open source software, and other social and technological developments,” are pressuring governments to evolve.  David wants to make sure they evolve in the direction of a more open democracy.  

Accordingly, he is envisaging and enabling a movement from government as hierarchy to government as a flat, enabling ‘platform.

Here's how he put it in his book chapter, After the Collapse: Open Government and the Future of the Civil Service :
“Seeking to respond to increasing citizen expectations around service delivery and effectiveness, these reformers envision governments that act as a platform: that share information (particularly raw data), are transparent in their operations and decision making, enable and leverage citizen-led projects, are effective conveners, and engage citizens’ requests, ideas, and feedback more intelligently.”
 
Not content with rhetoric, his strategic focus is the accessibility of the data government collects.  He has three objectives:

One, ensuring the data can be found in the first place i.e. can the various search engines find it?  If not, it doesn’t exist for all intents and purposes.

Two, having the data available in a useful format so it can be ‘mashed,’ with other sets of data. For example can it be merged with google maps or analysed in Excel? 

Finally, he wants to remove legal impediments to sharing the data. This means liberating the concept of Crown copyright. And clarifying ownership of government data when government uses third party providers of data management services.  These providers can control data access or claim they 'own' the data which is after all collected with taxpayer money. 

There are a myriad number of ‘data sets’ or software systems inside and outside governments.  David has tracked 300 different Canadian government data sets at the federal level alone.   Large sets of data have to able to talk to each other within government, between levels of government, with business and its citizens. 

Practically, access to open data reduces transaction costs and provides us with information and knowledge we may use to make informed decisions including the development of regulations, policy and statutes.  Most important it ensures this information is not reserved for a small elite group of people.

Since most governments in Canada have not gone ‘digital’ David and colleague set up an unofficial open data portal for federal government data – datadotgc.ca – “a citizen led beta for government data.”(http://www.datadotgc.ca/data ). I described this impressive, 'do it yourself public policy' in more detail in a previous post.

David also introduced me to the term digital literacy.  Prior to the 21st century being literate meant the ability to read and write.  With the advent of the internet, new technology and its rapid iterations, a new literacy is required. Accessing the digital world is more than reading and writing.  It is understanding how digital data is developed (coding, representing information in binary, numeric form accessible only by computer etc.) If only a few people know how to code, declares David, they will become the new gatekeepers controlling what we access. 

Information is power and controlling access to it, is even more powerful.  Those of an older generation approach this new literacy like a foreign language.  Is it worth the time and effort?  How often will we use it?

Those, like David, understand this is a serious challenge to democracy and if we don’t use it we will lose it! Or if we can't google it, browse it and mash it, the gateway will close!!

NOTES:

One: This is the third in a series on the 'promise' of the internet to nurture creativity and enable collaboration toward a more just society. Part One can be accessed here. Part Two here.

Two: For more information on the movement to open standards such as the Open Government Data Initiative see: http://www.microsoft.com/industry/government/opengovdata/

Three: for Matisse Enzer's glossary on the language of the internet click here.

 

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