Meeting in the Middle

Meeting in the middle

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Spiterman

There’s an interesting piece on open data APIs on GovTech that echos a lot of the things I’ve thought and said about government APIs over the past few years. It’s worth a read.

APIs are an increasingly important way that governments make their open data available to outside users. Typically, when we talk about open data APIs (and I am as guilty of this as anyone) its almost always with a focus on either the technical underpinnings and data on one side, or the benefits that citizens will ultimately reap from the data being made available on the other.

There are far too seldom discussions of what lies in the middle of these two ends and how this critical piece ultimately helps make government open data APIs better and citizens better off.

As powerful and important as APIs are to making open data available and improving how governments operate, the vast majority of citizens will never consume an API directly from a government data publisher. Most won’t know or care that data or a service they are using is built on data from a government API. Instead, they will most likely consume a finished product, app or service (or read a new story) that is built on data from an API or some other open data source.

What lies in the middle – between government APIs and citizens end users – is an important group of intermediaries (or infomediaries). This group is made up of private technology companies, entrepreneurs, volunteer civic hackers, journalists, activists, storytellers and others. It’s an important group for governments to reach out to, engage with and nurture. Far too seldom in our discussions about how to build great open data APIs do we discuss the strategies and skills needed to do these things.

To help address this problem, and to give people inside government some strategies for engaging with outside data intermediaries, I’m working on a new guidebook that I hope to make available in the next few months.

This guidebook will be designed to help civil servants find and collaborate with people doing innovative and valuable work outside government, particularly those working with technology and data. It will list specific strategies that can be employed by those working in the bureaucracy to help them leverage the talents of smart, passionate people outside government.

If you’re interested in contributing to this guidebook, or want to get a peek at an early draft, hit me up.

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