From open data to open democracy

Article by : “Such debates further underscore the complexities of open data and where it might lead. While open data may be viewed by some inside and outside government as a technically-focused and largely incremental project based upon information formatting and accessibility (with the degree of openness subject to a myriad of security and confidentiality provisions), such an approach greatly limits its potential. Indeed, the growing ubiquity of mobile and smart devices, the advent of open source operating systems and social media platforms, and the growing commitment by governments themselves to expansive public engagement objectives, all suggest a widening scope.
Yet, what will incentivize the typical citizen to access open data and to partake in collective efforts to create public value? It is here where our digital culture may well fall short, emphasizing individualized service and convenience at the expense of civic responsibility and community-mindedness. For one American academic, this “citizenship deficit” erodes democratic legitimacy and renders our politics more polarized and less discursive. For other observers in Europe, notions of the digital divide are giving rise to new “data divides.”
The politics and practicalities of data privacy often bring further confusion. While privacy advocates call for greater protection and a culture of data activism among Internet users themselves, the networked ethos of online communities and commercialization fuels speed and sharing, often with little understanding of the ramifications of doing so. Differences between consumerism and citizenship are subtle yet profoundly important, while increasingly blurred and overlooked.
A key conundrum provincially and federally, within the Westminster confines of parliamentary democracy, is that open data is being hatched mainly from within the executive branch, whereas the legislative branch watches and withers. In devising genuine democratic openness, politicians and their parties must do more than post expenses online: they must become partners and advocates for renewal. A lesson of open source technology, however, is that systemic change demands an informed and engaged civil society, disgruntled with the status quo but also determined to act anew.
Most often, such actions are highly localized, even in a virtual world, giving rise to the purpose and meaning of smarter and more intelligent communities. And in Canada it bears noting that we see communities both large and small embracing open data and other forms of online experimentation such as participatory budgeting. It is often within small but connected communities where a virtuous cycle of online and in-person identities and actions can deepen and impact decision-making most directly.
How, then, do we reconcile traditional notions of top-down political federalism and national leadership with this bottom-up approach to community engagement and democratic renewal? Shifting from open data to open democracy is likely to be an uneven, diverse, and at times messy affair. Better this way than attempting to ordain top-down change in a centralized and standardized manner.”