Open Open Open

Windows & doors, originally uploaded by okuna.

All too often when people start talking about Open Data or Open Gov, I think of that old Mervyn’s commercial with the crazy woman saying “open open open”. (Well that sure as hell dates me.)

This Monday night, March 25th 2013, there’s going to be an OKFN meetup in San Francisco. (RSVP here!) It should be a really interesting and fun night, strategizing ways to push openness in the Bay Area. It’s funny, on one hand the Bay Area is pretty ahead of the curve (particularly with transportation), but at the same time it seems like it’s also very very fragmented. Part of it is the actual divide in the Bay. I often joke about how rarely I cross over to San Francisco, but there really is a disconnect. San Francisco is the incubator of start ups and innovation, but the East Bay just sort of… is? I do have to say, it is pretty refreshing going to Open Oakland events and getting a much more grass roots, “let’s make Oakland good!” vibe. (Though I guess that also why I’ll never live in SF and make the East Bay my home.)

Back to Open Data and stuff. It matters. It matters a lot. Of course, most people I know get that. The devil is in the details. Unfunded mandates and all that. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep pushing – we just have to address the hard facts. Why is it worth the investment? What’s the benefit-cost? Just because it’s the way it should be done doesn’t really pay for data programs or transparency.

One of the most interesting things I’ve read about Open Data recently was the Socrata Benchmarck Study, which was recommended to me by Nicole Neditch who manages Oakland’s data portal. The study covers agencies, developers, and citizens, and shows what people from those groups value. The most encouraging part of the study was the positive attitudes of government employees – they really want to share data and feel it’s their obligation. (We really need to fund them enough to make it happen though.)

This then makes me think of research community. Oh how they want the data and they will talk a big about the need for Open Data and the virtues of Open Access, but can’t quite fully commit. I understand it to a certain degree. The pressures of tenure and publishing in the “right” venues. The “value” in getting publications out of a data set before sharing it. The latter, to me, is a reflection of the increasing privatization and corporatization of education. University research centers working as consultants will act as consultants in varying degrees. “I know we’re the only ones with this data set, we’ll get contracts.” All too familiar.

But that’s changing. Everything’s changing. I’m optimistic that as we organize and work towards sustainable solutions, people really see the value of openness and transparency and it becomes standard practice, not just buzz words.






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