Are citizens ready for Open Data and Government?

A few days ago I was in the Menendez Pelayo International University of Santander, Spain, to give a talk for a seminar about Open and E-Government.

I chose as the topic of my talk something complementary, in a sense, to the many fine technical examples and explanations on Open Data and Government provided by other speakers: are citizens and Public Administrations ready for Open Data and Government?

You can download the full talk at The main points were:

  • Using computers doesn’t automatically make services more efficient
  • In and by itself, using only Free/Open Source software on government computers gives no openness: you can build the perfect police state using ONLY “Free as in Freedom” software
  • Publishing data online does very little good if it doesn’t come with the right laws and practices

and, above all:

  • the crucial role EU senior citizens may play in acceptance of Open Government is really overlooked
  • Open Government done right destroys many more white collar public jobs than the economic crisis: will people accept it once they realize the impact on what is the biggest employer in many states?
  • Open Data work only if many more citizens are both willing and able to process numbers than it is the case today

Data is raw input to economic initiatives just like money or labour, in the sense that it can have the same or greater economic value. Opening public data may be enough to foster many economic activities, because that’s all the single, very few entrepreneurs or activists who already wanted those data need. When it comes to transparency in government or relations between citizens and politicians, open data work in practice only if many, many people actually study and process them. But today much, much less people are already prepared to accept and use raw data than blog posts, TV debates or other kinds of inputs. This is a point that has been recently raised by others:

Even other speakers at the UIMP seminar pointed out, independently and in various forms, the fact that e-government, Open Data and so on accomplish very, very little if people don’t use them. In conclusion, it seems confirmed to me that readyness and enthusiasm of the general public for what is generally called “Gov 2.0″ is something that deserves much more discussion than has already happened. What is your opinion?