This week I’m trying something new: I’m learning how to screen print. This means I have to track down a transparency to burn a screen and buy a screen. So I was thinking about transparencies this morning.
Which then of course goes back to government transparency.
Earlier today I retweeted this:
RT @sglassmeyer: Providing access to bulk data not enough. Gov’t must add context, curation, etc. so citizens can understand to be truly …
— Kendra K. Levine (@tranlib) October 9, 2012
We, the people, want the government to not only make the data available, but we want it to be meaningful. The idea of opacity through overwhelming transparency isn’t new. Just look at the raw data on Data.Gov. There’s a lot there, but what’s the point? Access is great, but data alone doesn’t really tell a story. There need to be context and synthesis. (Data.Gov is addressing this through the apps community.)
So now that more agencies are opening up the data, the problem is that they’re not telling the story themselves. I understand that they can’t really afford it, what with the ongoing economic headache. They’re relying on the good graces of the public.
Some citizens are motivated and have the technical chops to do something, but that’s not everybody. There are also non-profits, like OpenPlans and Code For America that promote “civic hacking.” Their contributions cannot be ignored. (I think agencies are finally coming around to that.) My worry comes from what I’d call ax-grindy groups, usually politically charged. I don’t necessarily trust their contextualization, as it most likely supports their agenda (even if I agree with the agenda).
The missing slice of this pie are universities and academic research, but I think that’s starting to change. University researchers have the skills and expertise to provide contextualization, and the somewhat detached objectivity. It’s going to change over time, but until then… we still have death by transparency going along.