Will mandated public data increase organizational efficiency?
I was struck by the following quote from the latest Pew Internet study:
“Governments, businesses and NGOs will gradually become more efficient and responsive, thanks in large part to the accountability and transparency mandated by public accessibility of the data they generate. But, bureaucracies being inherently conservative, this change will happen slowly – much more slowly than the opening‐up of data. The result will be that in 2020, companies’ customers will know far more about the companies than the companies do themselves. And citizens will know far more about governments than the government officials. This will lead to political and market tensions that will play out over many years.” – Dylan Tweney, senior editor, Wired magazine
I like the romantic notion that the availability of data (and I mean that in the broadest sense, not merely in the charts-of-numbers sense) increases or can increase both efficiency and responsiveness. I’m particularly smitten with this idea as it applies to governments. And yet I am skeptical of this assumption when I see it, not only in the above quote but bandied about anywhere. Just because we have data does not mean that it allows us to understand that data and how that data is generated (understanding processes being key to understanding the data itself, but also key to understanding organizational metrics such as efficiency). Similarly, understanding the data may not always correlate to the ability to affect changes in efficiency nor responsiveness of any given institution. As way of a simple explanation, I think of the stats gathered by the police in the excellent TV show The Wire – everyone knows how to “juke” their stats.
Don’t get me wrong – the opening up of all kinds of data is wonderful to see, as is the ability of watchdogs (be they nonprofit, academic, or individual) to analyze that data. But I suspect that opening up and releasing data is a very small step in the march toward organizational and institutional change. This is just a brief rant off the top of my head – what do you think? Have examples either for or against my argument?
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