Magic Pixie Dust? A Constructive Critique of the Open Data Program and its Impact on “Middle-Aged” Democracies

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Since his first election in late 2008, President Obama has launched a blitzkrieg campaign to advance the Open Data Program (www.data.gov). This program dictates that government agencies release data on the Web, free of charge, in a readable format.

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  Magic Pixie Dust? A Constructive Critique of the Open Data Program and its Impact on “Middle-Aged” Democracies Dr. Alon Peled Department of Political Science The Hebrew University of Jerusalem ( Alon.Peled@post.harvard.edu) Since his first election in late 2008, President Obama has launched a blitzkrieg campaign to advance the Open Data Program (www.data.gov). This program dictates that government agencies release data on the Web, free of charge, in a readable format. The Open Data program claims that citizens will then download datasets and develop effective applications. Open Data supporters claim that this program will increase governmental transparency. Fifty-five countries (including Israel) adopted Open Data. Open Data fans describe Open Data as magic pixie-dust that can heal any illness of “middle age” democracies. Yet Open Data supporters refuse to acknowledge critical flaws in the design, execution, and consequences of the program. Design flaws include an ambiguous Open Data definition, and unrealistic goals and project plan. Execution flaws contain lack of cooperation from public sector agencies, decontextualizing data to the point where it looses meaning, and the hidden, high cost of the program. Finally, Open Data has sacrificed privacy; increased the “data divide” between already empowered populations and weaker populations; and taught politicians, bureaucrats, and corporate executives how to “game the system” for private gain. The paper urges politicians to develop a different type of transparency program that metaphorically resembles a restaurant kitchen. In this kitchen, the (transparency) chef and his crew must employ different tools and ingredients to prepare a good dish; the restaurant guests (the citizens) who enjoy the (transparency) dish do not care how it is prepared – as long as it is tasty! The paper concludes with concrete suggestions how to equip and operate this “Transparency Kitchen” to avoid “Open Data 1.0” pitfalls.
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