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Gov 2.0 and the Democratization of Government Data

One of the most prominent features of the new decade is the move by governments to open up access to their data.  Federal, state and local government entities have begun to proactively share their data though websites such as data.gov and Massachusetts Open Data Initiative.  Citizens too are increasing engaging with this data in interesting ways.

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project recently released a report that provides the following statistics:

  • 48% of internet users have looked for information about a public policy or issue online with their local, state or federal government
  • 46% have looked up what services a government agency provides
  • 41% have downloaded government forms
  • 35% have researched official government documents or statistics
  • 33% have renewed a driver’s license or auto registration
  • 30% have gotten recreational or tourist information from a government agency
  • 25% have gotten advice or information from a government agency about a health or safety issue
  • 23% have gotten information about or applied for government benefits
  • 19% have gotten information about how to apply for a government job
  • 15% have paid a fine, such as a parking ticket
  • 11% have applied for a recreational license, such as a fishing or hunting license

The Pew report identified three main characteristics concerning citizens’ interactions with the government:

  1. Americans are consuming more data such as stimulus spending and political campaign contributions.  40% adults went online the preceding year to lookup such data.
  2. New online platforms that are beyond the traditional website have emerged for citizens to engage with government data.  31% of online adults use online platforms such as blogs, social networking sites, email, online video or text messaging to get government information.
  3. Citizens are not just devouring data, they are looking to share personal views about how government conducts its business.  23% of internet users participate in the online debate around government policies or issues, with much of this discussion occurring outside of official government channels.

What can government agencies learn from these findings?

Governments can take two practical steps to become more relevant to their constituents, build trust and advance the agenda of Government 2.0 by increasing transparency.

Incorporate Social Media Channels: The fist important step is for government entities to reinvent their websites by incorporate social media channels.  Providing a seamless opportunity for citizens to engage with government data and at the same time enabling them to share it with other Americans with their own commentaries would enhance user experience of interacting with government data.  If the government does not enable social media, then independent aggregators of government data with social media enablement will emerge to take advantage of the opportunity and take users away from government sites.

Add Data Visualization Tools: Currently a wealth of data remains unconsumed because it is buried in Excel and PDF files or it too difficult to analyze.  Consider the Data Catalog on Massachusetts Open Data Initiative, which contains excellent data-sets but no way to analyze the online.  Federal sites such as usaspending.gov are beginning to provide robust tools that make searching for spending data a breeze.  For example, if we want to know contracts won by a government contractor, we can simply search by its name and then apply multiple filters to break the data by government agency, product code, NAICS and whether competitive bidding was involved.

For companies like Creative Stride that are actively working to enable Government 2.0 initiatives, there is a unique business opportunity.  We predict a strong market for data aggregation, analytics and visualization.  New visualization methodologies and tools must continue to be evolved because the data-sets that are being analyzed are of unprecedented complexity and size.

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