Open Government is Dead, or Long Live Open Government?
To judge from recent U.S. news reports, open government is either thriving or in the midst of an unceremonious death. In Illinois, politicians have launched the “Apps for Metro Chicago” contest with prizes of up to $50,000 for the best data application. The U.S. federal government, meanwhile, just accepted the resignation of its first Chief Information Officer, Vivek Kundra, due to sweeping congressional budget cuts that essentially destroyed the operating budget of Data.gov. The future of that office and portal is uncertain.
However, this news isn’t as grim as it may seem. From an analytical standpoint, when taken together the two news reports are an indicator that open government is at last migrating from a large centralized version to a more communally based model. Chicago’s app contest draws its funding from a variety of different organizations, including the Chicago Community Trust and Motorola Mobility. The U.S. federal government is experiencing larger systemic problems that have very little to do with open data or open government. Analysts agree that while the open government program was in effect, it saved the government money, primarily because information is so easy to access. The “spin” of politics becomes unnecessary when actual data is freely available to entrepreneurs.
The success of local app contests and their corresponding financial benefit for their communities may be exactly what the open government movement needs to show budget committees just what a great policy it really is. Centralized governments around the world are looking for any method to streamline their costs. As more and more large urban centers such as Chicago, San Francisco, Vancouver, Ottawa, Edmonton and London develop comprehensive open government programs, larger centralized governments may soon be able to benefit from their investment.
What seems to be plaguing centralized governments now is not a lack of access to money and time-saving technologies, but rather their inability to let go of older preconceptions of how government should be run. City contests prove that open government and open data are a viable way of providing solutions to real problems at a fraction of the cost of traditional governance. Open government is not dead, but rather entering a new and vital phase of its development. Centralized governments provided the movement with an aura of legitimacy; now local communities must demonstrate just how efficient and cost-effective open government can be.