In giving evidence before the - Victorian Parliament - Economic Development and Infrastructure Committee’s Inquiry into Improving Access to Victorian Public Sector Information and Data my sister Professor Anne Fitzgerald quoted a passage from an article published in the Yale Journal of Law and Technology which addressed the role that the US federal government should have in modernising its internet infrastructure:
In order for public data to benefit from the same innovation and dynamism that characterize private parties’ use of the Internet, the federal government must reimagine its role as an information provider. Rather than struggling, as it currently does, to design sites that meet each enduser need, it should focus on creating a simple, reliable and publicly accessible infrastructure that “exposes” the underlying data. Private actors, either nonprofit or commercial, are better suited to deliver government information to citizens and can constantly create and reshape the tools individuals use to find and leverage public data. The best way to ensure that the government allows private parties to compete on equal terms in the provision of government data is to require that federal websites themselves use the same open systems for accessing the underlying data as they make available to the public at large. 328 (David Robinson, Harlan Yu, William Zeller, Edward Felten, ‘Government data and the invisible hand’, Yale Journal of Law and Technology, vol. 11, no. Fall 2008).
The Economic Development and Infrastructure Committee’s report quoted this evidence (at page 109)
The establishment of the Data.gov website in the US embodies this philosophy. (See as background President Obama’s Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies : Transparency and Open Government (January 2009))
The Data.gov website explains its role as follows:
The purpose of Data.gov is to increase public access to high value, machine readable datasets generated by the Executive Branch of the Federal Government.
As a priority Open Government Initiative for President Obama’s administration, Data.gov increases the ability of the public to easily find, download, and use datasets that are generated and held by the Federal Government. Data.gov provides descriptions of the Federal datasets (metadata), information about how to access the datasets, and tools that leverage government datasets. The data catalogs will continue to grow as datasets are added. Federal, Executive Branch data are included in the first version of Data.gov.
Public participation and collaboration will be one of the keys to the success of Data.gov. Data.gov enables the public to participate in government by providing downloadable Federal datasets to build applications, conduct analyses, and perform research. Data.gov will continue to improve based on feedback, comments, and recommendations from the public and therefore we encourage individuals to suggest datasets they’d like to see, rate and comment on current datasets, and suggest ways to improve the site.
A primary goal of Data.gov is to improve access to Federal data and expand creative use of those data beyond the walls of government by encouraging innovative ideas (e.g., web applications). Data.gov strives to make government more transparent and is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. The openness derived from Data.gov will strengthen our Nation’s democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.
For some interesting examples of what can be done see Rewired State (UK)