Open Data Movement Seen as Falling Short in Canada

February 28, 2013

Here’s more good news for the closed data crowd. In his Whimsley blog, writer Tom Slee explains “Why the ‘Open Data Movement’ is a Joke.” The post was spurred by a couple of developments in his native Canada: the country’s inclusion in the international Open Government Partnership, and budget cuts that imperiled jobs at Statistics Canada. Slee writes:

“A gov­ern­ment can simul­ta­ne­ously be the most secre­tive, con­trol­ling Cana­dian gov­ern­ment in recent mem­ory and be wel­comed into the club of ‘open gov­ern­ment’. The announce­ments high­light a few prob­lems with the ‘open data move­ment’ (Wikipedia page):

*It’s not a move­ment, at least in any rea­son­able polit­i­cal or cul­tural sense of the word,

*It’s doing noth­ing for trans­parency and account­abil­ity in government,

*It’s co-opting the lan­guage of pro­gres­sive change in pur­suit of what turns out to be a small-government-focused sub­sidy for industry.”

It is worth noting that Slee’s opinions are Canada-specific. He wishes “open government data” were more of a synonym for “transparent government.” (He excludes the “open scientific data” movement from his criticisms.) He observes:

“There seems to be no link between the government’s actions and the actions of this ‘move­ment’, and basi­cally that’s because the Open Data Move­ment is more focused on for­mats, digitally-accessible data sets, free access to postal codes, and so on than it is focused on actual gov­ern­ment trans­parency around issues that mat­ter. It’s a move­ment that has had no impact on gov­ern­ment accountability.”

See the article for a list of grievances Slee has with the current prime minister and his apparently opaque administration. The write-up encourages Canadian progressives to take a hard look at what is (and is not) actually happening in the name of open government data. To my mind, though, incremental progress is better than no progress at all.

Cynthia Murrell, February 28, 2013

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