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Any bright ideas to use open government data?

«In several countries more official data are being issued in raw form so that anybody can use them. This forces bureaucrats and creative types to interact in new ways.» That's the central issue in a story about data and transparency in the digital age, published recently by The Economist. The article introduces the data.gov.uk initiative launched last month: «the plan is to post a growing supply of facts that citizens or private institutions can sift through and play with as they choose.»

And while governments of America, Britain, Australia and New Zealand have all produced collections of machine-readable data, the American open-data projects seem more prone to a wider use: [15feb10] «Recovery.gov offers charts, maps and search fields. It displays some of the data on state spending that Britons lack. Local newspapers are using the site to determine how much stimulus spending has landed in their own back yards. The name “recovery” suggests an interpretation of spending that suits the president. The underlying data may be neutral, but there is always some spin in a website’s presentation.»

In its provocative conclusion, the UK magazine asks what actually «constitutes “high value” information» in this context—that is: who, how and why would use the public data more widely available these days.While the «British initiative, led by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, reflects his belief that any data can be useful,» it is also true that, whatever governments do, «the presentation of endless facts can fall flat unless there are independent developers who know what to do with them.» Possible solutions? The active push to merge two cultures: the risk-averse ethos of the civil service, and the free-wheeling spirit of open-source developers. Given of course that better access to official information will continue to improve.

Read the full story here

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