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Transparency Requires Government Data to Be Available and Accessible

IT has the opportunity to provide greater value in government.

Making government data ­available offers much value, to both citizens and an active democracy.

The digital age and the internet have ushered in many changes to our global culture, particularly when it comes to expectations for information access. Technology is readily available to aid in the ease and efficiency of data analysis, analytics and distribution, which citizens now expect.

Government transparency means financial and public information is readily understandable and readily found. It means taxpayers can see how public funds are used and hold their elected officials accountable.

When a government participates in social media and other technology, including a multitude of websites, that does not necessarily mean that it has implemented a transparency strategy. IT professionals should understand the importance of tracing needed privacy and transparency requirements when developing new systems, and take into account specific design and architectural considerations to achieve greater transparency.

Where to Start with State Transparency?

Transparency should be the guiding factor in the development of governance, whether for new systems development or basic sustained engineering. Open standards should be used to allow other agencies and third parties to further integrate, enhance and share data, which can result in vast improvements for disparate systems and successful new services.

But there seems to be a contradiction between privacy and transparency. Using a structured yet dynamic approach to information management is not a mutually exclusive goal. It should not be up to IT to find the right balance between individual privacy and transparent accountability.

The legal framework establishes privacy and data protection obligations to agencies that administer public services. The exchange of such information requires conformity with the applicable legal framework as well as security policies.

High-level data summaries, even data deemed confidential or sensitive, can often be reported without ­compromising privacy. Proper design methods for preserving privacy and the use of privacy-enhancing technologies are ­relatively common in systems development.

IT’s role will always be to add business value and solve business problems using technology; however, the safety of government data is paramount.

Taking Open-Data Goals Further

IT can also assist other agencies and public-sector organizations to identify, manage and publish accessible, anonymized and usable data sets to support the relationship between transparency and participation. Additionally, it can enable the use of open data for the private sector to improve services, expand businesses or even assist in the training of data entrepreneurs and developers in the use of open and linked data technologies.

When government data is published showing how funds are spent or impact public services, it allows citizens to hold their government accountable. It also allows for improved efficiency, provides choices in the utilization of public services, and can contribute to economic development.

Consider, for example:

  • Publishing employee salaries, expenses and contracts allows citizens to track where tax dollars are spent.
  • Publishing school testing results, judicial sentencing or benefit processing times assists in showing policy effectiveness.
  • Releasing public data allows citizens to examine how government is doing (from their own perspective).
  • Entrepreneurs, businesses and organizations can use public data creatively for the production of marketable goods and services.

True transparency requires government data to be available, discoverable, accessible and in formats that allow analysis. Available analytical tools must be able to produce reports that are understandable and meaningful to users. (Socrata and the Open Data Institute support increased discovery and transparency across all data types.) We are in the midst of a time where technology impacts on openness and transparency, and there’s no turning back.

For more on the transparency efforts of Florida’s Agency for State Technology, visit ast.myflorida.com.

Kanmin/Thinkstock
Jan 31 2017

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