Civic Innovations

Technology, Government Innovation, and Open Data

The Key to Open Gov Success: Common Standards

There is a really good post on the state of open government in Canada and the use of specific data licenses by Canadian cities over on David Eaves’ blog.

His post raises an important issue for the open government movement, one that I believe will ultimately determine it’s success or failure – the adoption of common standards by multiple governments in support of open government. This is something I’ve touched on before.

Eaves’ recent post discusses the importance of common licensing standards for open data. Equally important, in my mind, are other standards like those being developed for Open311, and standards for data formats (like GTFS).

One of the intended outcomes of the open government movement is the development of applications built on top of open data and open APIs. One of the primary advantages for governments from this type of “civic development” stems from the fact that (with rare exception) governments are not in direct competition with each other, and face common challenges.

This means that solutions built to address issues in one jurisdiction or municipality can potentially provide a benefit in other municipalities. That is the theoretical underpinning for efforts like Civic Commons.

But for this to work, there must be mutually agreed upon standards for things like data formats, APIs and data licensure to name just a few. Crafting and adopting these standards is work. Hard work. And making this even more difficult is the fact that there are those who would benefit from the absence of such standards – software vendors and other service providers.

Without painting all such vendors with the same brush (there are some notable exceptions), the absence of standards allows vendors to lock customers into their particular solutions, and provides an opportunity for them to sell the same solution over and over to different governments.

I’m not against capitalism (far from it), but governments need to get wise to the fact that common standards for data and APIs are what will ultimately help deliver on the promise of open government.

And also that there are those that do not wish such standards to be adopted or for open government to succeed.

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About Me

I am the former Chief Data Officer for the City of Philadelphia. I also served as Director of Government Relations at Code for America, and as Director of the State of Delaware’s Government Information Center. For about six years, I served in the General Services Administration’s Technology Transformation Services (TTS), and helped pioneer their work with state and local governments. I also led platform evangelism efforts for TTS’ cloud platform, which supports over 30 critical federal agency systems.

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