The One Answer You Get From Data

In a previous post I said there is “no one answer about what you will get out of this information”. This is probably true for data generally. But it’s not how a lot of people get interested in open government.

For instance: the TIF data I noted in that previous post. Many of the people who are eager to get that data are eager because they expect to find evidence of terrible corruption. And they may very well do so. But this stance is something of a problem for open government.

There are disinterested observers and there are… interested observers. Around government there tends to be more interested observers than otherwise. People who have an agenda. They might be generally disguntled. They might want to attain government contracts. They might have a political viewpoint. They might feel slighted by particular politicians, or even feel particular politicians are their enemies.

These people have one answer they want to get out of government data. Maybe they want to make someone look bad. Maybe they want to advocate a particular position. When they find data that supports that they are happy, and when the data doesn’t support their goal it is ignored.

I think this is a big part of why well-meaning politicians might be against open government, they see it as just one more tool for people to snipe at them. And looking at the advocates they might not see open government as a principled stance in favor of transparency, but as a specific effort to disrupt the political status quo.

At the Chicago Open Government meetup someone mentioned that they had a friend in government who was interested in attending (mostly as a citizen), but the person was uncomfortable that it might reflect badly on their job, that the group would be seen as partisan. And many efforts to use open data are partisan. The group has decided to explicitly separate the principle from the members’ personal agendas for this reason. I think this is wise.