Going Data-Dark Means Going Future-Blind

I don’t know if all of you are aware of the ways in which the proposed federal budget is potentially impacting on the government transparency initiatives and long standing programs to archive and provide government data to the public.


What We Lose if We Lose Data.gov

Congress weighs deep cuts to funding for federal open government data platforms

Sites to be closed or which are funded by sites to be closed:
Global Health Data Exchange
National Science Foundation Datasets/Tools
USA Spending
IT Dashboard
Apps.gov NOW
FedSpace (Intranet)
Data.gov: Learn

Yes, there’s more.


Here are some innovations we wouldn’t have now and which would not be possible if our government had not had the foresight to create Data.gov and these related resources.

OMB prepares for open gov sites to go dark in May
White House Blog: Sunshine, Savings, and Service
“Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra said recently that the IT Dashboard has helped save the government $3 billion on IT projects. ‘Using this important tool, we identified underperforming high priority IT projects and began an intensive review of these programs, eliminating ineffective projects, reconfiguring others, and targeting IT expenditures more carefully,’ he said.”

Wall Street Journal: Data Spur Changes in VA Care
“When VA hospitals in Virginia and Oklahoma learned an abnormally high number of their patients contracted pneumonia while on ventilators, they took steps to cut the rates. And a hospital in Kansas City, Mo., that recently ranked relatively poorly on surgical-death rates says it has improved by making staffing and other changes in radiology, cardiology and emergency medicine, including better avoiding hospital-borne infections.”
“Why would we not want our performance to be public? It’s good for VA’s leaders and managers, good for our work force, and most importantly, it is good for the veterans we serve,” Mr. Shinseki said in an emailed statement.

Health 2.0 Developer Challenge: http://health2challenge.org/
Inspiration Gallery

Apps for America and Apps for America 2

Open health data: Spurring better decisions and new businesses
“A growing number of developers are tapping into a treasure trove of U.S. government healthcare data and coming up with innovative iPhone apps that help consumers make better medical decisions,” wrote Carolyn Duffy Marsan.

Disease Control App for Doctors Wins Health 2.0 Data Challenge, Analyze This!

Selected Apps*:
360Fresh (clinical decisionmaking)
CareCrunch (find assisted living)
Datamasher (DIY data)
Epicenter | Find, analyze, and address emerging epidemics
Happy Feet app (exercise)
HealthSeeker (diabetes)
iTriage (diagnosis)
Pillbox (medication identification)
* These either depend explicitly on the Data.gov content, open government data, or open data in general.

Quora: What are the best apps built on top of open government data?


Other countries all over the world were so impressed with the impact and gains from the US open data initiative, that new government open data archives are popping up all over the map. Literally.

World Map of Open Government Data Initiatives
World Map of Open Government Data Initiatives

So if the United States, having been a leader in this area and with clearly demonstrated benefits and needs, chooses as a government to step back from their previous commitment to this, what happens? Nature isn’t the only thing that abhors a vacuum.

As Data.gov Goes Dark, 50 Startups Prepare to Take its Place

So who is leading the pack with innovating and staking a claim to this sudden opportunity?

Google Freebase: http://www.freebase.com/

Now, wait a sec. I’m confused. Didn’t Google take over the public library business already? And patent search? And if the government quits coordinating and managing their data, and Google is doing this too, well, isn’t Google a corporate entity? Is Google becoming a branch of the government? Yes, that is sarcasm folks. At least when I say it it’s sarcasm, but there are other folk who aren’t so sure.

American Thinker: Google and the Government
“But when the donor is Google, the largest non-governmental repository of information about citizens ever imagined, the payback takes on new dimensions.”
“At the core of the complaints is the concern that the sacred doctrine of openness, the organizing principle of the Internet, is being violated by Google via its relationship with the government.”

My thought is that, while it is lovely to diversify sources of information and development of tools (after all LOCKSS – Lots Of Copies Keep Stuff Safe), and Google does a lovely job with many of these things (and I am glad to have them helping), isn’t it first and foremost the responsibility of the government? Isn’t it the government’s duty to take the long view, to act on behalf of its citizenry for their safety, benefit, and welfare? In what sense does trusting 3rd parties to manage core and intimate functions such as public data support those goals? I’m just confused. I freely admit I am also biased, as a librarian who grew up two blocks from the public library, to believe with all my heart and soul that information (both data and knowledge) and free access to information are absolutely wedded not just to the future opportunities for the citizenry, but also to the future survival of our nation and very possibly our species. So, you may want to take what I am saying as being interpreted through that lens.


Huffington Post: “Why Cutting E-Gov Funding Threatens American Jobs (Beth Noveck)

Data.gov is a project for the few – but they really matter, says Tom Steinberg: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/blog/2011/apr/05/data-gov-steinberg-questions
“That’s a terrific closer – that power station managers don’t feel guilty about not producing iPods. Data truly is the raw fuel for the information age. Closing a fuelling depot won’t stop people getting it – but it doesn’t help either. So the question isn’t how you get more people to use data.gov. It’s how you get the right people using it. And you do that, of course, by demonstrating how useful free, open data is.”

Asking the wrong question about Data.gov:

Sharing Smithsonian Digital Scientific Research Data from Biology:
“In a growing number of cases, drawing together data gathered in different times, places, and scientific fields offers the best hope for deepening our insight into major concerns about the world‘s environment, climate, and biodiversity.”

Dawes. S.S., and Helbig, N. (2010). Information Strategies for Open Government: Challenges and Prospects for Deriving Public Value from Government Transparency. In Electronic Government: Lecture Notes in Computer Science, M.A. Wimmer et al. (Eds.): EGOV 2010, LNCS 6228, pp. 50–60.
“With few exceptions, making data holdings available to the public in a meaningful and useable way is a new responsibility of government agencies that will need thoughtful investments in skills, tools, and policies, as well as some changes in processes and practices. One needed practice improvement is the creation of formal feedback mechanisms that connect data users to data sources. Feedback from users could lead to ongoing data improvement as users discover and correct errors in the data. By providing the opportunity and a formal mechanism to communicate data errors and enhancements back to the data sources, improvements in the overall quality and integrity of the data can benefit all future users, including the government itself.”

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One response to “Going Data-Dark Means Going Future-Blind

  1. Pingback: Open Government & Open Data in Conversation | Emerging Technologies Librarian

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