Government data and the invisible hand

A paper by Princeton academics says that:

It would be preferable for government to understand providing reusable data, rather than providing websites, as the core of its online publishing responsibility. Rather than struggling, as it currently does, to design sites that meet each end-user need, we argue that the executive branch should focus on creating a simple, reliable and publicly accessible infrastructure that exposes the underlying data. Private actors, either nonprofit or commercial, are better suited to deliver government information to citizens and can constantly create and reshape the tools individuals use to find and leverage public data.

The paper goes on to say:

Rather than struggling, as it currently does, to design sites that meet each end-user need, it should focus on creating a simple, reliable and publicly accessible infrastructure that exposes” the underlying data. … Data should be available, for free, over the Internet in open, structured, machine-readable formats to anyone who wants to use it. Using “structured formats” such as XML makes it easy for any third party service to gather and parse this data at minimal cost.

This is, fortuitously, exactly what my colleagues and I working on aidinfo – an initiative to improve the transparency of aid information – have been saying. (Temporary website at www.aidinfo.org)

Reference: Robinson, David, Yu, Harlan, Zeller, William P. and Felten, Edward W., “Government Data and the Invisible Hand” . Yale Journal of Law & Technology, Vol. 11, 2008

Hat tip: Power of information blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *