Report measures open gov benchmarks

Tuesday - 1/4/2011, 4:03pm EST

Kevin Merritt, CEO, Socrata

Click to hear the interview.

Download mp3

It has been one year since President Obama's Open Government Directive mandating that the federal government become more transparent by publishing data online.

Since that time, agencies have embraced the directive in varying degrees. But up until now there has been no benchmark for open government progress.

A new report from IT company Socrata sets benchmarks through surveying three groups: government stakeholders, civic application developers and ordinary citizens.

"Collectively, as a movement, it gives us a baseline to measure our future progress and see we're progressing in a steadfast way," said Kevin Merritt, CEO of Socrata, in an interview with the DorobekINSIDER.

The study found "overwhelming support" among government stakeholders for publishing data, Merritt said.

Government employees were asked if they agreed or disagreed with the statement: In the 21st century, if government data is supposed to be public, it should be available online. More than 92 percent agreed.

Government participants were not as supportive of mandating funding for open government.

To the statement, "Data transparency is an important enough initiative to fund from existing budgets," nearly 83 percent agreed.

Merritt pointed out that some agencies have been putting data online already for two decades. "Don't necessarily think of this as transparency, open data. Think of this as a web interface," he said.

Government stakeholders also expressed concern that putting data online would create more work with "moderating the comments and moderating the activities that the public citizens are performing," Merritt said.

But, he said, "That's just not the case."

"It's not a huge amount of additional work to manage that engagement and that participation," Merritt said.

One area for improvement is to make data sets more easily digested by users. Public citizens said they prefered to explore data interactively online instead of downloading data. Visualization helps citizens instead of "dealing with the data directly," Merritt said.

Merritt said he was most surprised by the disconnect between what government thinks the public wants in open government data and what the public actually wants. Citizens generally want public safety and financial data, whereas the government thought citizens wanted regulatory data.