What Open Government plans could learn from retail management



After working several depressing retail jobs in my teenage years, I used to think that it was a kind of job I would never wish upon anyone. After reviewing the open government plans of 29 federal agencies, I’m starting to take a second look at the lessons I learned at those jobs.

For example, it gave me a deep appreciation for the need to conduct occasional inventories of the store: a listing of every single piece of merchandise under the store’s roof. In my assessment, the majority of the open government plans failed to provide clear inventories of the “high-value” (a problematic term, as we’ve discussed before) data.

Department of Commerce - Data Inventory

Most plans gave a general narrative of the type of data that was out there without actually creating an invoice of said data, hyperlinks, citations or even a spreadsheet – in other words, no inventory!

Given the importance of inventories in retail, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Department of Commerce (DOC) provided one of the best data inventories. A screenshot of the inventory including a link back to their open government plan can be found at right.

To give credit where it’s due, the General Services Administration (GSA) also had a pretty solid inventory [PDF] (page 55). It’s not surprising since the GSA is responsible for acquisition solutions of supplies for many government organizations.

Last week, we devoted a fair amount of digital ink to highlighting the shortcomings of the data in open government plans so I wanted to make sure we continue showcasing the awesomeness of certain aspects of particular agencies’ plans. The kudos to the DOC doesn’t stop with their data inventory. Clear organization and concise writing typified the DOC’s “What Commerce Will Do” section. It also helps that the plan is written in plain English.

I urge you to read that section in its entirety [PDF] – it starts on page 4. The real star of this section is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration otherwise (NOAA). Factoring out my automatic positive association with the name the new NOAA data being released is absolutely great.

Whether it’s digitizing weather station data from the 18th and 19th centuries or making public for the first time soil moisture observation data, the new data from NOAA will improve climate studies and help business make better economic decisions. NOAA was already putting huge amounts of data online, even before the Open Government Directive. Recognizing that the data is sometimes hard to find, NOAA is also expanding the scope and functionality of its Climate Services Portal to help citizens and scientists find the data they need.

The Sunlight Foundation has been focusing its eye on the transparency plank of the open government plants, specifically on data transparency. We’ll continue to do so this week but it’s important to note that transparency is only one of three Open Government Directive planks: the others are participation and collaboration. Agencies were also asked to come up with an open government flagship initiative. Heather West of the Center for Democracy and Technology has a great post on Govfresh highlighting certain flagship initiatives.

We’ll continue to dig deeper into the transparency portion of the open government plans and link to other evaluations going up round the net. If you see a perspective on the plans we’ve missed drop it in the comments below!

Photo credit: “Discoveryland Retail Packaging” by Flickr user Design Packaging.