A recent Pew Research Center survey on Americans’ views about open data and government, the first of its kind performed on the topic, has both good and bad news. The good news is that respondents said they are optimistic that open data initiatives can make government more accountable. The bad news is that many respondents are less sure such initiatives will improve government performance.
“Though 53 percent of the citizens surveyed believe that open data initiatives would make government more accountable to the citizens it serves, just under half the participants thought these initiatives would actually improve government services,” writes Colin Daileda in Mashable.
“And 53 percent of those surveyed didn’t think better transparency would lead to better decisions by government officials.”
Altogether, 49 percent of all adults have used the Internet or an app to gain access to information for at least one level of government.
Pew notes that there are four categories for people based on their engagement with government data and online applications, as well as their level of optimism about how government data initiatives might affect government:
- Ardent Optimists: About 17 percent of all adultsare both engaged with government data initiatives and are highly likely to think government data will improve how government performs, how citizens can impact government and how journalists can do their jobs.
- Committed Cynics: 20 percent of respondents are steady users of online government resources, but are skeptical that they will have any positive payoff to government performance, because they have low levels of trust in government.
- Buoyant Bystanders:About 27 percent of respondent like the idea that data can improve how government performs, but are not likely to use the tools that the data enables to connect with government.
- Dormant Doubters: The remaining 36 percent do not often use the Internet to transact or find out about government and they also do not think government data initiatives are apt to improve government services or make it more accountable. “They have low levels of trust in government to begin with, which may influence their perspectives on whether data initiatives can improve government,” Pew points out.
Pew also found that people don’t always know when they’re using data provided by the government, such as when they’re looking at a mapping or weather app. The Pew study “finds most have no idea the data that makes all that possible is part of an open government initiative launched in 2008,” writes Elizabeth Weise in USA Today.
Consequently, when asked about whether government shares data “very effectively,” only 5 percent of respondents agreed for federal and state government, and 7 percent for local government. For “somewhat effectively,” the figures were 39 percent, 44 percent, and 45 percent, Pew finds. “The data still seems to suggest that Americans think the government could be doing more,” writes Andrea Peterson in the Washington Post.
These results also demonstrate that there’s some degree of confirmation bias going on. For example, Pew finds that how people feel about open data is predicated on how much they trust government to begin with. “23 percent of Americans say they trust the federal government to do the right thing at least most of the time,” Pew notes. “This trusting minority of Americans is much more likely than others to see the potential benefits of government data initiatives.”
But the trend is clear, notes researcher Alex Howard in the technology and policy blog E Pluribus Unum: “The way citizens communicate with government now includes the Internet, and the way government communicates with citizens increasingly includes digital channels.”
“Recognition is growing that information is a key government asset and making it easily accessible and usable online is essential for improving government efficiency and transparency,” agrees the Center for Digital Government in its paper, The New Information Democracy.
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