As the news this week shows the unsettling boundaries between the government, media, and business, it is important to distinguish the competing vision of the future of the government.
One camp trumps the value of “big data” where the predictive analytics is now rigorously applied in the governance. This brings efficiency to resource allocation as demonstrated by New York City's response during Hurricane Sandy. Yet, this movement looks beyond intergovernmental data. As our daily lives become more digitized, governments began to look at publicly disclosed data of individual citizen on Twitter to understand their needs. In order not to single out individual with the infringement of privacy, the government resort to grouping them into a mass. And the analysis on this mass can result in a top down approach designing governmental solutions with the assumption where they know what citizens want more than themselves. This approach promises a better and more efficient government service. In the process, we may loose the participatory channel.
The competing vision of “open data” invites more decision makers into the decision making process. As the government releases its large data sets, civic groups have opportunities to process the information on their own, provide insights, and present actionable solutions. Great works have been done both in the federal and municipal level and this movement will certainly go hand in hand with good governance policy of transparency and accountability. This movement, however, has its limitations in where these data sets need intermediaries to be processed for the general public. This “data literacy gap” prevents the ordinary citizens from participating in the decision making in an ongoing situation. Furthermore, in the representative democracy, bringing in more scrutiny and decision makers in the process can result in slowing down the process.
Moving forward, how can we espouses both visions where the government is both more efficient and inviting to its citizens?
The first step can be open data movement to expand beyond releasing data to making the data understandable to the ordinary citizens. In collaboration with civic groups, governments should provide a space where any citizen can easily access any information they need and unclassified data about their communities. This will provide citizens with information they need and feel passionate about. That shift from data to information can be the building block of community engagement.
The second step for the big data movement is to be transparent about its data gathering. We have witnesses fallouts from companies like Facebook and Instagram with privacy issues. All these issues can be preempted in the government setting, if it is clear about the scope of government gathering of private information.
Lastly, the most important feature would be the choice of opting out. Many tech companies already employs these features where the choice is given to the consumer balancing between privacy and efficient services. This choice will not only safeguard against unwanted government data gathering, but also a benchmark for measuring the successfulness of the program.
If the service made life truly convenient, people will sign up.