Sometimes the Open Data Platform does Make a Difference

In May of this year, Asian and European countries met for the regional Open Government Partnership summits to once again discuss transparency and open government. In light of the session tracks that were presented I am evaluating some of the technologies of the past and how there has been a welcome and fundamental shift from Open Government and Open Data being ambiguously linked toward the separation of the two in more current thinking and in technology approaches.

Most notably, the deprecation of Microsoft's Open Government Data Initiative platform is a positive sign of the times that the government community is becoming aware of the danger of open government and open data linking.

Harlan Yu and David G. Robinson discussed the OGP in "The New Ambiguity of Open Government" (Princeton CITP/Yale ISP Working Paper). 

"The Open Government Declaration is broad approach toward 'openness,' as signatories commit to 'seeking ways to make their governments more transparent, responsive, accountable, and effective.' In addition to transparency and accountability, OGP member countries promise to 'uphold the value of openness in our engagement with citi­zens to improve services, manage public resources, promote innovation, and create safer communities.' Thus, the stated goals of the OGP include making gov­ernments both more efficient and more accountable, and it remains to be seen how much focus each of these disparate goals will receive. By casting a wide net, the OGP has received the 'open government' pledges of more than 55 countries." (2012)

In response Microsoft, in 2009, released an “Open Government Data Initiative,” which promotes the use of Microsoft’s Windows Azure online platform as a tech­nol­ogical underpinning for open data efforts. Microsoft has an incentive to sell open data technologies for the broadest range of governmental uses; their decision to brand their efforts in terms of “open government” is powerful evidence of how vague the term can become.

The basic premise of open data as open government has created ambiguity within Civil Society Organizations that belong to the Open Government Partnership. Since 2011, there has been a large de-emphasis on open data being linked to open government. Newer technologies like

OGDI is the platform launched by Microsoft shortly after President Obama took office in 2009. In the early days, open data and open government were almost synonymous terms. OGDI stands for Open Government Data Initiative. This is a problematic acronym because of the order of the letters. One can argue that this stands for "Open Government Data, an initiative". I argue that the syntax works out to be something like "Open Government, a Data Initiative". Given the ambiguity, I am glad to see Microsoft has deprecated this platform in favor of other, modern platforms.

CKAN, Socrata and Open Data Soft have embraced a more prescriptive approach to open data. The idea is now that open data is a strategic asset or “infrastructure” to be used by accountability and transparency groups that are separate from open data.

The OGDI acronym itself is an outdated concept of tying government transparency to open data. The OGP itself recognizes this and has recommended a separation in commitment by member countries between e-government, open government and open data. In recent summit meeting in both London, 2013 and in the Bali, Dublin summits of 2014, a separation of open data from open government was evident from the session tracks presented during the international and regional summits.

Aside from the philosophical differences of OGDI from the more modern technology platforms, there are technical limitations within the OGDI platform. OGDI, while open source, is limited to Microsoft Azure cloud hosting and is indeed only available as a platform plugin once an Azure account has been created. This runs counter to the idea of a data platform being loosely coupled to a hosting technology.

"Open Data" should be free from technological restraints and should be represented by a platform that conforms with post 2011 open data thinking and strategy. By disambiguating open data from open government, governments can be more transparent with both sides of their OGP commitments and address any open data commitment head-on.

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