Creating the Open Data Bargain in Cities

Embedded below is the talk I’ve given to both community hackers (at Open Web Vancouver) as well as City of Vancouver Staff regarding the opportunities and challenges around open data and the open motion. (Here’s an update on where Vancouver is at courtesy of some amazing work by city staff).

For those willing to brave through the presentation (or simply fast forward to the end) one piece I felt is most important is the talk’s last section which outlines what I term “The Bargain” in a reference to the informal contract Clay Shirky says exists between every Web 2.0 site and their users.

The bargain comes last, because it matters only if there is a promise (open and shared data) and a set of tools (applications languages) that are already working together. The bargain is also the most complex aspect of a functioning group, in part because it is the least explicit aspect and in part because it is the one the users have the biggest hand in creating, which means it can’t be completely determined in advance… A bargain helps clarify what you can expect of others and what they can expect of you.

- Clay Shirky in Here Comes Everybody (my italics, page 270)

I believe that in an open city, a similar bargain exists between a government and its citizens. To make open data a success and to engage the community a city must listen, engage, ask for help, and of course, fulfil its promise to open data as quickly as possible. But this bargain runs both ways. The city must to its part, but so, on the flip side, must the local tech community. They must participate, be patient (cities move slower than tech companies), offer help and, most importantly, make the data come alive for each other, policy makers and citizens through applications and shared analysis.

5 thoughts on “Creating the Open Data Bargain in Cities

  1. danielharan

    The original bargain is: we give you money, so you do things that are good for the general population.We can't see if that bargain is being respected unless the city is more transparent. Many of our cities are bogged down by bureaucracy and crippled by corruption. Transparency will help expose all this.Progressive cities can work with techies to open data in better formats or create new data sets. That warrants a new bargain where we have to do something interesting in exchange.Not all cities are so progressive. In those cases, we need a baseline of transparency. Minutes from council meetings, transit, infrastructure data (including roads) and council electoral district shapefiles should all be made freely available.Finally, it should be noted that software can be copied. Geeks in your city may not have to write anything particularly novel, but get a lot of value deploying existing software. And the more cities, the more incentive there is for geeks to create globally useful software. So if we want to have a bargain with geeks, it's a global, rather than city-level bargain.

  2. Ton Zijlstra

    Enjoyed that presentation David, thanks. As to the 'bargain', that's a good way to express what's needed to bring open gov data forward better and faster. It is also something that isn't readily accepted yet by those on the' citizen side' of the bargain, as I've noticed in several sessions and events. See http://www.zylstra.org/blog/archives/2009/07/re… for how I described what's needed on both sides of the bargain.

  3. David Eaves

    Daniel – great comment and very much agree with the last paragraph. The more cities open up their data the more applications there will be – it is like have a larger and larger install base to play with. I'm definitely thinking about that and it is shaping some of my projects – more on that in a while.

  4. David Eaves

    Ton – Great piece you link to. The challenge of not having citizens get overly frustrated is enormous. We are overturning over a century's (and sometimes much, much longer) worth of bureaucratic culture – for some governments this movement is a wholesale assault on how they operate, their values and the trust they believe they are supposed to be carrying. This isn't to say they are right, but it is a dramatic shift and one we need to help them figure out how to transition through – not simply berate them for not moving fast enough. Everybody is eager to cite the overly-cautious, conservative bureaucrat as a problem (and they are) but so is the citizen who won't get into somebody else's shoes, imagine the world from their perspective and help try move a system in a constructive way.

  5. Pingback: Back to Reality: The Politics of Government Transparency & Open Data | eaves.ca

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