The landscape around open data and Gov 2.0 starts to take shape
The idea of Gov 2.0 â€“ re-envisioning whatâ€™s possible in government/citizen interaction and problem solving through the application of collaboration technologies â€“ has been around since 2004. Only very recently, however, has it reached the common lexicon, with local, state, and central bodies moving beyond tentative experimentation towards core integration. Trends ranging from fiscal austerity to increasing â€śFreedom of Informationâ€ť requests to the tendency towards smarter cities have concurrently brought into focus the exponentially increasing value of data, giving the open data movement its wings. This movement â€“ and there is still debate as to whether it can be called such â€“ is now in the throes of defining itself, with vigorous argument as to both the â€śhowsâ€ť and the â€śwhats.â€ť As this happens, potentially game-changing â€śgovernment-as-a-platformâ€ť plans are taking shape that liberate data, render government more open, and seek to stimulate societal and economic multiplier effects.
Ovumâ€™s recently published report, The Emerging Landscape and Markets Around Open Data and Gov 2.0, is designed to help vendors, enterprises, and government agencies understand the shift towards government-as-a-platform, particularly concentrating on commercial opportunities, current international and domestic policy, best practices, and obstacles to be addressed. It expounds on the topics discussed here with specific examples, recommendations, and detailed analysis.
The road ahead: promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep
A first step to moving the conversation forward is achieving agreement around the definitions of open government, open data, Gov 2.0, and other relevant terms to ensure policy is targeted and progress can be measured. At the moment, there is far too much room for spin and propaganda, with governments claiming to be open by publishing a few data sets on a website. Standards from a variety of bodies are evolving with the purpose of judging the quality of open data, identifying high-value data sets, and holding accountable those that decide what will be opened and what will not. Moving towards government-as-a-platform status is minimally about technology and more about cultural change in agencies and creating an ecosystem that focuses on both types of data to be made open: operational data used to stimulate economic/social multiplier effects and transparency data used to ensure accountability. Open data is a means, not an end; in Ovumâ€™s view, it is meant to increase citizen trust in government and fulfill transparency goals, share information internally between agencies, and provide the basis for co-creation between government and the citizen. Building in two-way participation is a necessity for the â€śopenâ€ť moniker to hold true, and cities can often move faster here than central governments.
Policies are evolving globally to embrace different visions of Gov 2.0
International and national bodies are springing up to assist with standards, partnerships, market formation, technical details, creating political will, and oversight. The key global initiative to track is the Open Government Partnership (OGP) â€“ with 55 member countries â€“ which seeks to secure commitments from its members to promote open government and share best practices in implementation.
The main US initiative to watch is the Digital Government Strategy, meant to facilitate public access to government information anytime, anywhere, on any device â€“ setting open data as the default via APIs. In Ovumâ€™s view, it is comprehensive but very difficult to implement. Should it be successful and vast amounts of data previously bottled up are released, and if a vibrant developer and vendor community emerges around that data, a substantial and fast-evolving market could arise. The policy architecture could also be replicated in other countries.
However, the general positivity and excitement surrounding the Gov 2.0 movement â€“ and particularly open data â€“ masks some of its major obstacles, flaws, and characteristics. This includes spin and propaganda; â€śgovernment as a platformâ€ť as an excuse to cut back on service provision to citizens; unintended impacts arising from weak governance structures; open data empowering the already empowered; privacy breaches such as the mosaic effect; the challenges inherent within structuring unstructured data; difficulties posed by moving towards realtime release of data; digitizing data from hard-copy records, particularly in low-income countries; and a reliance on a â€śbuild it and they will comeâ€ť mentality.
Is a market arising around Gov 2.0?
This is a contested question, one which the full report delves into in more detail. Given that the movement is still nascent, its players fragmented, and direction unclear, the answer is not obvious. Much will depend on the rigor with which countries follow their open government strategies, what types of data are released, how accompanying public sector procurement processes are reformed, the availability of start-up financing in a country, and whether private sector players and individual developers actually perceive an opportunity, both civic and profit-oriented.
In Ovumâ€™s view, content management systems, enterprise collaboration, citizen engagement platforms, and analytics/BI solutions at the intersection of Big Data and open data are the major established areas where a market may arise or at least significantly be influenced by Gov 2.0. The great unknown is the potential impact of the inevitable mashups, apps, and services for consumers that will result. This includes the myriad ways information can be combined, split, categorized, operationalized, visualized, and analyzed to create new insights, services, government/citizen interfaces, businesses, and civic benefit across verticals and industries. Within this space, the most exciting categories to watch are civic entrepreneurship, collaborative consumption, and the real estate, science/research, transportation, healthcare, and energy verticals.
Nishant Shah, Analyst, Government Technology
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