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Opening Government: Modeling the Informational Relationships between Government and Society

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Research and even business is becoming a collaborative enterprise that brings together multiple institutions, sectors and, increasingly, different countries. No where is this more apparent than in the natural sciences where the phenomenon being examined and questions being asked are not contained in the borders of one discipline, institution, country, or continent. Both a reason for and often the purpose of collaboration in the sciences is the need to amass, maintain, and share large and diverse structured data resources that no one research team or institution has the resources or expertise to collect, make available, and maintain.

The basic assumption of the open data movement is that more intensive and creative use of information and technology can improve policy-making and generate new forms of public and economic value. Open data initiatives are focusing on education, public health, transportation, environmental stewardship, economic development, and many other areas. Ironically, this information is often treated as a black box in the open data movement. Stakeholders, analytical techniques, and technology tools all receive considerable attention, but the information itself is often seen as a given, used uncritically and trusted without examination. However, the very kind of data that is now being released as “open data” was actually collected or created for other purposes. It has undeniable potential value, but it also contains substantial risks for validity, relevance, and trust.

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The information polity perspective described in this paper provides government a way to identify the various stakeholders and their patterns of interaction that influence or control the generation, flows, and uses of enhanced information resources in open data initiatives. The dynamic modeling techniques used highlight the ways different constraints can impact the system as a whole and affect value creation. These tools support planners' ability to generate informed hypotheses about changing patterns of interaction among existing and potential new stakeholders. In this way, governments can better evaluate the costs, risks, and benefits of a wide variety of open data initiatives.

This white paper is part of a year long CTG thought leadership project with SAP focused on developing new research and practical tools for helping government produce public value from their open government initiatives. In June of 2012, the paper was shared with an international group of open government experts from government, academia, and the private sector; 25 of which convened at CTG in Albany, NY at the end of June. Workshop participants provided feedback on the conceptual model presented in the paper and crowdsourced ideas for improvement. CTG is using the results from the workshop to develop a final version of the paper and identify opportunities with the workshop participants for testing and implementing the approach with governments pursuing open government initiatives.