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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Sunday 23 March 2014

Why Open Data Needs Open Government

About a year ago, I had a chat with a world-leader in all this open government stuff.  He was partnering in an outreach initiative that was going to completely disrupt the current top-down social order and bring real agency to the grassroots. 

Where I challenged this fellow was in that the pitch for this initiative was targeted towards Establishment players; it was looking for funds for design and implementation, with a promise of phone call updates, periodic reports and the like as their ROI.

Where, I asked, were the grassroots in the development and implementation process?  How on earth could they expect different results from this top-down approach from all those that have come before it?

I was challenged back with financial reality - projects and outreach like this are expensive, someone's gotta pay the bills.  The poor don't have money, and that's just the way it is.

What of in-kind donations of time, I replied?  The organizers make more than enough money already to live comfortably; the work could be carved off as CSR time.  Or, private investors could sponsor grassroots folk to participate directly, to co-design and co-implement the process.  That would be different.

The point is that there were and are many was to empower and engage people at all levels, but it doesn't happen on a transactional basis.  Sales isn't about empowerment, it's about return on investment.  There is definite ROI for empowerment - ask any committed parent or teacher - but it's often not immediate and most often comes in a pay-it-forward format.  We don't make the world better for ourselves, but for our children kind of thing

When it's about money, we aren't really capable of doing inter-generational ROI; we need to see some return within our own lifetimes, and most often within much shorter time frames than that - weeks or days, or always best: yesterday.

This is why the whole concept of the free market or laissez-faire capitalism as a solution to our social complexities is facetious.  When it's all about us, it's not about the big picture.  And when we fail to plan ahead, we find ourselves going over fiscal cliffs.

Private interests with quarterly targets can't develop structural solutions or nurture sustainable, societal growth.  Neither can grassroots movements themselves; they lack the bandwidth of mandate and access to resources to do so.

In fact, there's only one institution that has so far had any luck at building bridges between silos and planning for the long-term sustainability of all - and that's government.

Government isn't about profit.  It's not about one cause or the other.  Government is about structural sustainability.  Taxes can be raised and spent on everything from physical infrastructure to health awareness campaigns; free of any one shareholder commitment, government can work to align shared solutions for all.

Does government do this now, and effectively?  Of course they don't.  In fact, they've been getting worse.  But then there's been a trend towards attempting to run government like it's a business, hasn't there?

If you want to find a solution, you have to identify the right problem.  Taking away barriers to competitiveness allows the competitive to swallow up everyone else, except they don't go away.  What emerges are even greater structural fracturing.

Our goal should not be to throw government out with the bathwater but to design and implement it better.

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