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Introduction

There is growing interest at all levels of government to increase access to and use of government data in support of good governance (OECD, 2003; OMB, 2009, 2010)
As a result, public agencies are under pressure to create new capabilities to achieve this goal. A common assumption when opening government data is that simply supplying more data freely and in more formats will lead to more use and value creation. And, this in turn, will motivate government to make the necessary changes to make data more open and accessible. But, we know from experience, that supplying more and more data does not necessarily produce the anticipated results.

The premise of this paper is simple: If public leaders want to pursue opening government, particularly through the use of new technologies and information-driven activities, then they need a good understanding of how these things work. That understanding is not fully available in current guides, tools, techniques, and theories for dealing with opening data in the public sector. Nor is there an adequate foundation of knowledge from existing research or standards for practice

Too much of the rhetoric tends to focus narrowly on the technical aspects of opening government data. We often see approaches that ignore or underestimate the full scope of the policy and management challenges involved in opening government data, which tend to increase the risks and undermine the potential value of these initiatives. Over the last year, we observed this narrowness in our review of dozens of open data initiatives. We found technically focused initiatives that amounted to little more than websites linked to miscellaneous data fi les, with no attention to the usability, quality of the content, or consequences of its use. We found other initiatives that were complex organizational or enterprise-level projects that envisioned wide reaching political and social outcomes, but lacked the technical design sophistication and implementation models necessary for such demanding and complex contexts

Approaches to opening government data that underestimate the full scope of policy and management challenges increase the risk and undermine the potential value of its use.

In response to this wide continuum, we developed a new approach to analyze open data initiatives based on two key ideas: contextand dynamics. First, the approach acknowledges the signifi cance of context, particularly in terms of the actors and their interests in the governance of government data and access to it. These aspects of opening government data are largely de-contextualized in common practice addressing in a very limited sense the many ways context affects how information is acquired, understood, and used to impact government and public life. Second, we highlight the dynamicsof open data initiatives that impact value creation, in terms of making data available, making it ‘fit for reuse’, understanding how contextualizing the information is important, and the introduction of new stakeholders. These dynamics represent changes over time resulting from new technologies, interests, issues, and patterns of interaction that result in new practices, governance arrangements, policies, and ways to express the value generated

The next sections present and elaborate a perspective for reaching improved understanding.
  • First, we describe the value of an information polity perspective for broadening and sharpening our understanding of the nature of open government data initiatives.
  • Second, we present two open data cases that illustrate how data, information flows, technology and relationships are central to the analysis.
  • Third, we describe the dynamics of open data initiatives highlighting activities related to providing, using, and governing information in the public sector.
Our goal is to improve understanding of what shapes the value generated through open data initiatives. To do this, we present a more holistic approach to understanding and evaluating the impact of different technology, management, and policy choices before they are implemented. We offer a particular point of view, set of concepts, and analytic tools for dealing with the complexity surrounding the relationships between information, technology, people, and interests. A new understanding can guide designers of open data initiatives in working successfully with employees, advocacy groups, civic hackers, citizens and other stakeholders to create new ways of collecting, integrating, disseminating, and using information in pursuit of improved governance.