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Created

December 3, 2009

Who is the consumer of open government?

The information sharing challenges facing government today are greater than ever before. Take GPO for instance, in the not so distant past, all consumers of GPO products had essentially the same set of expectations, an authentic document that one could read. Paper-based deliverables were the only option, not only for the consumers, but also for the creators. Now, organizations such as GPO are faced with a whole different class of information consumers, most notably, machines. This new class of information user has created a completely new set of demands on the way information is created, stored and disseminated, however, and this is important, it has not eliminated the requirement to publish information in a useable format for people. So, government organizations are faced with serving multiple masters, each with different requirements but neither less important than the other.


In watching many of the debates within the context of open government, it occurs to me that usually, there are legitimate concerns raised, however, only within a particular context. For example, machine readable vs. human readable. I’ve seen this debated back and forth a number of times. The main requirement for the average person is to publish information using the familiar paradigm of a document, however, for someone who’s job it is to assess and cross-reference information across various sources, they are more in need of some form of raw, parsable data. Neither of these requirements are wrong and it would do for all parties to keep that in mind.

There are also differing requirements and perspectives on the topic of security, especially as it pertains to authenticity. The digital world has made the falsification of information substantially easier than it was in the paper world with an additional, even bigger implication. Falsifying a printed document, while potentially damaging, is far more limited in scope to that of falsifying a digital document. Unconstrained, unprotected digital documents can replicate and spread literally at the speed of light. It boggles my mind when I read pieces that state the authenticity of information is simple not that important. Perhaps for that one particular use case, it is not, because the data is being downloaded directly from a reputable source, but, how can one validate the authenticity of a document received via email without some sort of credential?

These are just a couple of the complex issues that face our government agencies today. We must resist the urge to dictate information sharing solutions that do not take into consideration the needs of ALL constituents, people and machines.

So, rather than throw stones at our government servants, perhaps we would all be better served to open a true dialog between the interested parties and seek solutions that truly address the challenges more holistically.