Ever since President Obama launched the Open Government Initiative in January 2009, government agencies have been in a hurry to publish more and more data. The vision is to bring accountability to the government, foster collaboration across agencies, and encourage participation of the public by sharing data openly. In the past six years, we have come a long way. However, we are still far from the goal. Through our work at LiveStories, helping government agencies become more data-driven, we see three major obstacles that prevent our public institutions from being more transparent and efficient:
1 . Available Does Not Equal Accessible
Government agencies are focused on making data available as quickly as possible. The Open Information Directive was ambitious in its deadlines, but speed was prioritized over scope. The directive defined Open Data as being machine readable, available on all operating systems, and accessible through web search. The focus on making data available as quickly as possible resulted in most of the data being published in file formats such as CSV, XML, JSON, and RDF, formats that are meant for people with database and programming experience. Unfortunately, most people do not have the skills, so while the data is available, it isn't accessible to a large majority of the population.
2. Overpriced and Overly Complex Systems Limit Efficiency
The public sector has been put in an arm lock by large vendors who install and maintain old, overpriced, and complex software systems that rarely work well outside their own ecosystem. The data is being opened up, but the tools are stuck in the last century. This brings us to the third obstacle.
3. Decision-makers Don't Have Access to the Data
The government itself should be the first entity to benefit from it's data. Instead, all of these overpriced and overly complex systems are only used by a handful of people who have the "right" training. This bottleneck leads to a highly inefficient process that forces decision-makers to wait weeks and months on data that should have been available to the entire organization as soon as it was gathered. Government agencies are by design preventing their own decision-makers from being more data-driven.
The Most Critical Institutions in Our Society Need the Best Data Tools
Opening up the governments data will not only increase transparency but also make the critical sectors in our society such as healthcare and education more efficient, and bring the government closer to the people. But it’s important that the government adopts tools that allow anyone to access, explore, and share information, both within and outside government departments. Data is too important of a resource to be locked up in obscure file formats and software systems inaccessible even to government employees themselves.