Open Data. Cui Bono.

Bandying latin phrases around maybe a sign I have had too much coffee to drink. Nevertheless, I can find no short way to ask “who stands to gain?”.

Altruistically speaking, Access to Information Laws, open data policies, open government efforts…they are all for the citizens. The citizen gains. The citizen is your regular ‘man off the street’, your local grocer, you mom even. The citizen is also your local politician, the bureaucrat and the civil servant working in the local government office you so thoroughly enjoy interacting with. So, again, for open data cui bono? Who stands to gain?

Open government and open data in particular needs to serve the interests of three constituents for it to grow and thrive. Unfortunately, these interests are forever bound in a gordian knot.

  1. Citizens want to know. They are interested in how money is used, resources allocated and the rationale for it all. They want to know how they can speak into the processes and improve their lot in life. Even then, only when the data/information is presented in ways they can relate to within their own context. One reason why open data initiatives struggle, lack of capacity for demand-side relevance.
  2. Politicians want citizens to know. But only as much as it doesn’t represent a political problem for them. They want data/information published, as long as it provides them with some political advantage. As it so happens on many occasions, that which politicians don’t want citizens to know is the kind of high value data citizens expect to find on open data portals. One reason why proactively released data may have a political agenda.
  3. Civil servants want to publish. As long as it doesn’t endanger their positions, make the politicians angry and be interpreted as an attempt to compromise a political actor’s interests. One reason why proactively released data is typically of low value to the general public.

So if proactively released open data is low value, low risk and low demand who actually stands to gain?