04 August 2011

Opening the doors on government information

There are lots of good ideas floating around that could make Newfoundland and Labrador a stronger and better place to live.

One simple one would be to emulate British Columbia:  throw open piles of government information so that people can use it.  The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is one of the most secretive, backwards administrations in Canada.

Open the vaults on data that no one – even the government officials themselves – is using.  It’s not that people wouldn't;t use the information or that they shouldn’t have access to it.

The problem is they just can’t get access to it, at all. As the Globe put it:

The idea is a simple one. In the past, governments collected tax dollars from citizens. Government employees inside the boundaries of government created services that were delivered back to the citizens. This exchange of tax dollars for services will continue, but, courtesy of the Internet, there’s an expanded model of government whereby government acts as a platform.

There’s an enormous amount of data inside government, such as data about climate change, the success of entrepreneurs, radon gas, bicycle accidents and so on. With governments starting to make this raw data available to citizens, people will self-organize to use the data to create value. This is not about outsourcing or privatization. This is about a new division of labour in society about how we create public value. The result is better government services and a government that costs less.

Political parties in Newfoundland and Labrador won;t adopt such a policy in the current election platform.  At least two of the parties have vested interests in keeping control of information. The other might just not give a toss.

Here’s another area where it would be nice to be proven wrong but your humble e-scribbler is not holding his breath waiting. Experience is a cruel teacher.

- srbp -