From Data to Behaviour
Matthew Taylor’s thesis that a more engaged citizen (as opposed to a consumer) is required to reform government, one that will understand the need to make trade-offs and one that takes personal responsibility for their actions, is perfectly exemplified by many of today’s activist geeks. Individuals like Tom Steinberg and MySociety, a voluntary organisation of technical experts donate their time to the challenge of scraping data from public sector websites (like Hansard records) and re-published it in websites that are far more engaging, allowing others in turn to become more engaged.
Today, principally because of their example, and reports like the Power of Information review, both the present government and the opposition fully recognise the value of making such data available online, where communities of people linked by the internet can ‘get excited and make things‘. This appears to be causing the enormous pent-up enthusiasm to be released; indicated by the membership of the new http://data.gov.uk/ site’s discussion group reaching 1,464 (at time of writing) with some extremely active discussions.
Stephen Timms recently spoke at the RSA, highlighting the success of the government’s effort to open up more data, and the efforts made are likely to remain, with the Conservative party also showing enthusiasm for the idea. When it comes to opening up government data, the most ambitious example I’ve seen so far is http://www.recovery.gov/, the website for the US Government’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – Obama’s stimulus package.
I often write about “persuasive technology” on this blog, which has, as a pretty foundational tenet, that allowing people to see the effect of their actions, or “self-monitoring” can enable and encourage them to change their behaviour (a la real-time energy displays). Freeing public sector data is simply this on a much more ambitious scale.