Reflections on Government Data and the Invisible Hands

The core proposal of Robinson et al’s work is to promote operational change on how government should share its public data. They point out that the reason for U.S. government agencies tend to have out-of-date website and unusable data is due to regulation and spending too much effort on improving each agency’s own website. Thus, they propose to hand the interaction part of public data, to third-party innovators, who has far superior technology and experience on creating better user interface, innovative reusable data, and collection of users’ feedback.

Although, under current trend of U.S.’s regulation and laws of sharing public data, it is true if the distribution of public data isĀ better operated by third party innovators for better distribution and surplus value creation. I would argue, however, their work is missing some perspective on U.S’s current public data.

The first is standardization, it is more urgent for a public data standard to come out from the government, to ensure data quality and usability, rather than distribution. The top complaining of public data is that even data from the same realm (economic data), can end up very differently from different agencies who published it. This create more severe issue on the usability and accountability of the data, than distributing the data. So. in order for government agencies to become good public data “publishers” in Robinson et al’s proposal, all government agencies have to come up with a universal understandable and usable data standard, rather than each agencies using their own standard, or left the most basic part of data handling to private sector.

The second issue from their proposal is credibility of the data. If all public data is handed over to the public by third-party innovators, for increasing their own competitiveness, they will modify the original data to match what the public want, in stead of the original unmodified data. This create credibility issue, since there is way less legislation and regulation on what third-party distributors can and cannot do to the originally published government data. And this modification is inevitable for third-party distributors, since at least they need to modify the original public data to fit in their database.

At the end, I do think commercializing public data distribution can promote effective use and reuse of public data. Meanwhile create problems in all business, privacy issue, “rat race”, and intended leading on the exposure of more public-interested product, etc.. It will have its pros and cons, but before government agencies can solve their data standardization issue, and regulations are built to supervise third-party distribution of public data. Whether there will be more pros of Robinson et al’s proposal than cons remains questionable.

2 Responses to “Reflections on Government Data and the Invisible Hands”

  1. site admin says:

    How do you think standardization and credibility (quality?) come into play in GIScience?

    • Yao Jian says:

      I think data standardization and credibility are the essential to any science related to data. If data is not standardized, it is hard to be transferable to other platform, format, and use. And if the credibility of data remains questionable, then any result derived out from that data might not be reliable as well.