So much data… locked away

I’m preparing for the keynote on Public Service Sector Renewal and technology I’ll be giving at this year’s DPI conference on Thurdsay in Ottawa. I’ve been working on creating a series of slides that I’m hoping will be quite interesting and tha I promise to share either here or via slideshare.net.

What has been most interesting is how hard it is to get data about the government. In my case, I’ve been trying to determine the address of every major ministry (or, if you must, department) in Ottawa in 1930, 1960, 1980 and today. I know this information exists – the problem is finding it. It would appear that it can only be found in the national archives – in hard form, from a protected document that people aren’t really allowed to access.

Sigh.

It makes me think of how much data the government has collected over the years – or even minute by minute that gets stored – even digitally – in inaccessible ways, making it harder for companies, non-profits or other entities to leverage the public resource.

If our government is going to get one thing right, it would be enabling its citizens to do that.

3 thoughts on “So much data… locked away

  1. Jeremy Vernon

    It’s interesting that the the government exhibits this symptom yet the root cause isn’t nearly as obvious as the walled garden systems of corporate services.

    The inaccessibility of data resources is business security for any website – it makes the barrier to exit equal to the cost of data re-entry – pretty steep for some of the social networking sites etc out there.

    The government, however need not worry about competition – the cause instead is poor standardization in accessibility methods and no specification for data access. They have standards for usability and accessibility from the perspective of HUMAN users but nothing (as far as I’m aware) exists to enforce a standard method – say a web-service API, of machine access to governmental information resources.

    Short of national security concerns there’s little reason for the government to keep this – providing clean access to it would be a big value add to the heaps of seemingly useless analysis and data collection.

    The aforementioned Sunlight Association maintains an API to retrieve information about members of congress.

    I should say that there is one service robustly supported by web services – but closed to anyone except licensed corporations, and that is tax collection.

    Why not just expose and API and let open source orgs or non-profits develop tax management apps? Aside from strong corporate interests to turn tax-collection into a profit centre; which is about as perverse as it sounds.

    Reply
  2. Jeremy Vernon

    It’s interesting that the the government exhibits this symptom yet the root cause isn’t nearly as obvious as the walled garden systems of corporate services.The inaccessibility of data resources is business security for any website – it makes the barrier to exit equal to the cost of data re-entry – pretty steep for some of the social networking sites etc out there.The government, however need not worry about competition – the cause instead is poor standardization in accessibility methods and no specification for data access. They have standards for usability and accessibility from the perspective of HUMAN users but nothing (as far as I’m aware) exists to enforce a standard method – say a web-service API, of machine access to governmental information resources.Short of national security concerns there’s little reason for the government to keep this – providing clean access to it would be a big value add to the heaps of seemingly useless analysis and data collection.The aforementioned Sunlight Association maintains an API to retrieve information about members of congress.I should say that there is one service robustly supported by web services – but closed to anyone except licensed corporations, and that is tax collection. Why not just expose and API and let open source orgs or non-profits develop tax management apps? Aside from strong corporate interests to turn tax-collection into a profit centre; which is about as perverse as it sounds.

    Reply
  3. Pingback: JeremyVernon.com » Blog Archive » Where’s technology in this election?

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