Unprepared Public Administrators

(this page is part of my 2011 report on “Open Data: Emerging trends, issues and best practices”. Please follow that link to reach the Introduction and Table of Content, but don’t forget to also check the notes for readers! of the initial report of the same project, “Open Data, Open Society”)

It is undeniable that today, especially at the local level, most Public Administrators that should or may contribute to open the public data held by their organizations still ignore, and sometimes disdain, Open Data proposals, principles and practices. This happens for many reasons. We’ll only mention two of them that are quite common. They are interesting because, while being somewhat related and sharing common origins, one is very hard to fix, the other, at least in comparison, very easy.

To begin with, most of these administrators are people that, albeit very competent and committed to their work, were not really trained to live with so much of what they perceive as “their” documents and daily activities as Open Data implies regularly exposed to the public. This is true even among administrators who are already well acquainted with mainstream “Web 2.0” practices. Many officers who already have a regular presence on Facebook, Twitter or other social networks and regularly use those platforms to discuss their work with their constituents feel diffident about Open Data in the same measure as their colleagues who don’t even use computers yet. A cultural barrier like this requires both strong demand from citizens and detailed examples of how Open Data can be good for the local budget to be overcome in acceptable time frames.

Another factor that may keep administrators away from Open Data is the more or less unconscious assumption that, in order to use them, a City Major or Region Governor should be very skilled himmself, if not with actual programming, with “Web 2.0” tools, modern online services and/or general software engineering principles. This is simply not true. Surely, Open Data is something that is made possible only by modern digital technologies and the Internet, but at the end of the day it’s “simply” a way to increase transparency, efficiency and cost reductions inside Public Administration, and to create local jobs. If these hypotheses are as concrete as this and many other studies explain, there is no need for a Major to have programming skills, like social networks or have any other personal “2.0” skill or training to see the advantages of Open Data and delegate to his or her IT staff their implementation.