Open Government Risk Aversion one of Government’s Greatest Risks

As we look across the open government landscape, we see shining beacons of leadership and success. Certainly since the election of Obama and the subsequent appointment of the first U.S. Federal CIO, Vivek Kundra, the U.S. Government has lead the world in the technology-enabled transparency.  The U.S. drives performance and opens data to engage citizens, businesses, and policymakers to create citizen-centered apps for a fraction of the cost of traditional development. The U.S. open government strategy has saved U.S. taxpayers millions of dollars in I.T. spending over the last two and a half years by engaging citizens to develop hundreds of innovative, lightweight and cost-effective apps based on open data.

The U.K. also embraces open data and open government to allow government to be more transparent, efficient and responsive to the needs of its citizens. Data.gov.uk allows citizens to easily search and consume data, share applications, find developers and request new data.

Closer to home, British Columbia was the first provincial government in Canada to launch an open data website (data.gov.bc.ca) with a progressive data license, over 2,500 data sets, and tools for non-developers to create applications. On the same day, BC launched a redesigned, citizen-centric website (www.gov.bc.ca) and a new, open information portal to proactively release information that is requested through the FOI process.

However, a quick environmental scan reveals that the majority of governments in Canada (federal, provincial, territorial and municipal), and indeed the world, are resisting the movement to open government. Although, according to Mr. Kundra, there are “21 nations, 29 states, 11 cities and several international organizations” that have initiated open data platforms, most have not yet implemented an open government policy.

Interesting, when you consider the following benefits of open government.

  1. Open government stimulates economic growth and saves government money, in a time of extreme economic and budgetary pressures. Open government:
    1. Enables government to do more with less by leveraging technology and engaging its greatest resource – citizens.
    2. Assists in the development of new products, services and businesses.
    3. Encourages research and development and educational and scientific communities
    4. Replaces many large, costly IT projects (which take years to develop and often underperform because business requirements and technology change in the time lag for implementation) with smaller, citizen-centric applications that deliver incremental, focused business value early in the project lifecycle.
    5. Reduces the requirement of what can be expensive FOI requests with a proactive FOI strategy.
    6. Stimulates the economy by providing jobs to small, start-up technology firms which leverage open data to create value for citizens and by providing more agile, responsive services to businesses to help them be more competitive in the global marketplace.
    7. Increases accountability and reduces expenditures that do not provide appropriate return on investment for citizens with public scrutiny of government spending.
  2. Open government makes government more transparent and accountable and drives. Open government:
    1. Engages citizens, NGO’s and businesses in the consultation, deliberation, decision-making and implementation of public policy, to drive more effective and responsive results based on supporting data.
    2. Reduces the risk of ‘hacktivism’ (politically-motivated hacking into computer systems) and political unrest because citizens and interest groups are engaged in the political decision-making process.
  3. Open government greatly improves services to citizens by becoming more citizen centric and collaborative.

Risk aversion and fear of the unknown thwarts public institutions from realizing the benefits of open government. I find this interesting because it is risk aversion in the area of open government that could be one of government’s greatest risks. Government’s risk aversion to open government leads to greater risk of:

  1. Real or perceived government corruption
  2. Poor investment management decisions
  3. Alienation of citizens, businesses and interest groups
  4. An underperforming economy
  5. Not getting re-elected
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