Fragmentation Isn’t Helping Civil Society

There’s the open data crowd with their glitzy visualisations and apps. Then there’s the Freedom of Information folk with their policy briefs. There’s also the open government crowd and the citizen participation people and the open budgets groups and the transparency crowd (remember them?).

I like this piece done by Josh Goldstein and Jeremy Weinstein on The Benefits of the Big Tent: Opening up Government in Developing Countries, they argue for the one thing most needed, in my view, within this space (whatever you’d call it). An umbrella name/space that defines what we are all trying to do; a ‘Big Tent‘. But who benefits most from this fragmentation? Why should the distinction between the transparency crowd and the open data crowd be data standards and formats when they both reach for the same thing? If a transparency organization published data in open formats and under open license would they now become an open data organization? What then is Sunlight Foundation? An open data organization? A member of the open government crowd? A transparency organization? Should we even have debates on whether open data is more important than freedom of information legislation when the real issue is on implementation of mechanisms for government to publish data citizens want?

In my view, these unnecessary distinctions, when used as wedges to create ‘camps’, only illustrate how disconnected we are, as practitioners, from citizens and what they are trying to get done. The guy on the street doesn’t know (probably doesn’t care) whether the organization behind an app is from the transparency crowd or from the open government camp. Citizens don’t even care whether the app is driven by open data, they are simply trying to get a job done.

How about a little more collaboration and porous fences? There’s a chance that the work done by everyone compliments the universal effort to improve the quality of life and eradicate poverty around the world.

A very good chance.