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Technology is no longer open data’s biggest challenge


Managers -- not technology or budget -- now may be the biggest obstacles to government data transparency.

Information technology bosses and government administrators are reluctant to invest time and staff in projects in which they feel they hold little stake, according to participants at the 2012 International Open Data conference.

When it’s not clear who is responsible for an open data initiative -- or who will get credit for its success -- managers lack incentive to pursue the change, said Shauneen Furlong, a Canadian consultant and a panelist at the conference. She listed risk factors facing open data initiatives, including skewed reward mechanisms for managers and a lack of motivation and accountability.

Managers also may be wary of revealing dirty laundry or exposing their offices to undue attention. In developing countries especially, data transparency projects have come under scrutiny from politicians wary of the public impact of open information on their governments. Even the World Bank, the host of this week’s conference, faced questions when it opened up its data sets under the leadership of former president Robert Zoellick. Many of the economists and academics involved with the bank’s research did not acquiesce easily to releasing their data to the public.

While the technology factor in open data remains an issue, it is becoming significantly less of a problem. The costs of everything from the actual technology, connectivity and operations are falling. The engineering know-how to set up scaled systems to handle thousands of pieces of information exists and is becoming increasingly accessible. In many instances, the production of the system has become the easy part of an open data project.

Still, government administrators often pass on these projects because they do not see how they will affect their agencies. Furlong suggested introducing incentives -- including linking projects’ success to pay, as was done in Canada -- to provide the motivation for managers to pursue open data and e-government policies.

For now, open data implementation is weaker than it should be, panelists argued, which is detrimental for citizens and stakeholders seeking to increase the speed of delivery for government services.  

(Image via mkabakov/

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