Whose data are they, anyway?

Barack’s Whitehouse is going 2.0. And to some extent, he’s bringing some of the rest of government with it.

Now that American data is available to the American people at (what else?) data.gov, We The People’s grip on the handle of government power gets tighter. What will we Americans do with such knowledge? Perhaps come to understand ourselves better, and therefrom make better decisions for our selves, communities, and posterity? One can hope so.

One thinks of some of the possible empowering uses for this database of the federal government, now put at the fingertips of Joe and Jane American, and one is impressed:

*when Joe and Jane decide to go property shopping, how helpful will it be to have a national database of “brownfields” maintained by the EPA? Being able to see (using Google Maps, no less) the proximity and presence of possibly toxic substances should definitely affect their shopping

*or let’s say Jane is becoming a pediatrician, and wants to go where she’s needed most. In that case, she goes to a CDC database and discovers that Washington D.C. has the highest infant mortality rate; if she wants a relatively healthier natal environment, she could find there that Utah is the state with the lowest incidence of infant mortality.

*maybe Joe has graduated with a law degree and wants to know where to set up a practice in patent law for the entrepreneur. He checks a Department of Commerce offering, and sees which state is granting the most patents, and he’s in a position to make a wiser choice.

*maybe Joe and Jane are jet travel fanatics, but they hate delays. This Bureau of Transportation Statistics (who knew it existed?) database will tell them which airports experience the least delays, which the most, and which are in-between.

I love this innovation for at least two reasons:

1) It puts average Americans in touch with sources of American knowledge, and

2) It may the harbinger of American government 2.0.

How long do you suppose it might be before Congressional reports are delivered directly to the American people, annotated or commented upon by their legislators, but there at Joe’s disposal–the examinable “truth” of his government’s affairs? Or how long till an office holder holds regular online forums and webinars for his constituents, soliciting opinion from the end users of government, who could in turn be invited in to the process by which their government services them?

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Peter Orszag is claiming this as a milestone down the road to government transparency. He says it grows out of Obama’s “commitment to open government and democratizing information” (emphases mine).

If this be the fruit of information machines in government, this small “d” democrat American says emphatically, “Analyze on!”

And for those who want a one-stop shop for data on a global scale, there’s Worldometers, a free and real-time compendium of the world’s statistical information. The most depressing(and yet potentially most empowering) information I found: already this year, over 6 million hectares of land have been turned into desert, and more than 61,000 species have gone extinct.

One response to “Whose data are they, anyway?”

  1. great post with some great insights. unfortunately the exact 2.0 version this represents is the same percentage of americans with a computer will utilize its importance. Thanks for this.


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