Reasons to Not Release Data, Part 5: Staffing Concerns

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Earlier this month, we shared a crowdsourced collection of the top concerns data advocates have heard when they’ve raised an open data project with government officials at the federal, state, and local level, and we asked for you to share how you’ve responded. Dozens of you contributed to the project, sharing your thoughts on social media, our public Google doc, and even on the Open Data Stack Exchange, where 8 threads were opened to dive deeper into specific subjects.


Drawing from your input, our own experience, and existing materials from our peers at the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership and some data warriors from the UK, we’ve compiled a number of answers — discussion points, if you will — to help unpack and respond to some of the most commonly cited open data concerns. This mash-up of expertise is a work in progress, but we bet you’ll find it a useful conversation starter (or continuer) for your own data advocacy efforts.

Click here to see other posts in this series.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing challenges and responses from our #WhyOpenData list that correspond to different themes. Today’s theme is Staffing Concerns.

 15. It’s not my job
A. My boss hasn’t told me to and you’re not my boss
  • “Could I talk to your boss about this? Do you think they would be interested?”

  • This is a sign to frame your ask differently. Ask if you can use this opportunity to learn more about the department or agency and how it works with data. Recognize points to mention the utility of this information and take note of whether there’s precedence in other communities for publishing this data more openly. Even if you’ve been stonewalled in your attempt to convince this person outright, there may be more natural ways to integrate open data benefits and use cases into exploratory dialogue that can help earn you an ally in taking your pitch to the right person who can affect change.

  • If completely shut down, see if there are other officials or agencies whose work overlaps with the data in question (or more generally) who might be willing to talk further about data disclosure, or seek out people at a higher administrative level and make your pitch to them.

B. That’s someone else’s job
  • “Whose job is it? I’d love to talk with them about the reasons opening up data can be beneficial.”

16. My bosses/the politicians don’t like it
A. That might upset Congress
B. I don’t mind making it open, but I worry someone else might object
  • Identify who is generating the concern and offer to help talk with them about the reasons that opening data can be beneficial, innovative, and less difficult than they think.

  • It may be helpful to seek someone in a higher position who can reassure them that opening the data will not result in objections.

  • Ask for more details about what point in the process will cause concern and identify whether there is an opportunity to start work below that threshold to demonstrate the positives and work out any kinks with disclosure before making the case to move toward a broader initiative.

17. We don’t have anyone who knows how to do that
A. We don’t have/can’t afford a CTO/CDO/CIO/other staffer to do that
  • Ask if they would consider appointing existing staff to oversee the work. Ideally, this would still include selecting a point person, but this move can also distribute work (and make adjustments for particular government departments easier) by also including appointees within agencies who can manage, facilitate, and cater the process to the data their team works with.

    • For a good fit from existing staff, examine those whose existing roles likely already intersect with government records collection, management, and distribution in their work, such as clerks, archivists, and IT staff, or, whose work involves cross-department management, like innovation officials, ombudsmen, and financial officers.

  • Offer to work with them to create the political will for proper funding of staff to handle open government and open data issues. Be prepared to talk with them about the benefits of transparency and why it’s worth investing the government’s time and money in being more open to the public.

  • Point to or offer to connect the appropriate agency official with government officials in local, state, or federal government who are in the process of implementing an open data initiative with a similar staff size, budget, and/or jurisdiction. Although opening data as we discuss it today is fairly new, there are many examples of agencies have been executing various degrees of data disclosure programs for years, many of whom would likely be willing to share the particulars of their experience and approach.


Stay tuned next week for our next #WhyOpenData post on Legality.