Reasons to Not Release Data, Part 10: Say What?

by and

Brown cardboard box with a question mark.  Isolated on white.

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, Say What?, celebrates a grab bag of challenges.

40. Data being used by privileged technologists and educated communities creates a further divide to access to information
  • “One of the most important reasons to release data is to make sure this core knowledge from our government doesn’t fall only in the hands of the privileged. It’s to make sure that when any of us look for information, we’re able to start uncovering answers. This is why the focus is on making sure public data is published online. Even if the Internet is not accessible in every community, through home devices, libraries, mobile phones, and schools, increasing numbers of communities do have access (or are in the process of getting access) to the web. We can do a better job at making sure that those who have access find information, but that still underscores the need to start releasing information. Even if not every member of the general public will value or be interested in a particular dataset, we need to thoughtfully lower barriers so that those who do are not prevented from exploring further.”

  • “Access divides are serious, but they should be treated as a challenge we can incorporate into our discussion of improved data release, something we can proactively consider in our approach to problem-solving, rather than as a barrier to opening any data or improving any level of access.”

41. This just isn’t a priority now
A. It’s not a good time. We all love transparency, but how does it relate to our priorities right now?
  • “What are you busy with? Often, releasing data can spark outside innovation that will help advance a government agency’s mission. Let’s talk about the ways that releasing data could assist with your current priorities.”

  • “Are you producing or dealing with data as part of your priority work? There may be ways to integrate open data publishing or release into your current work flow without being disruptive. In fact, open data might actually help you meet internal and public goals for your work.”

  • Open data doesn’t always have to be pursued as it’s own initiative. In fact, for communities new to the subject, integrating data transparency into single-issue policy developments (e.g. education or campaign finance) might strengthen the case to open data more widely throughout the government.

42. It’s pending/not final/in progress
A. That is a good idea, but we don’t have an Open Data/Open Government Strategy yet, so we should wait for that
  • “Releasing open data doesn’t have to wait for a policy or strategy. While having a strategy can be helpful for the guidance and sustainability of a government’s approach to data publishing, it doesn’t hurt to start releasing data now. Experimenting with data release can help illuminate the benefits and challenges that it can bring. A policy can incorporate what you learn by starting to share data and can help you build in necessary regulations and activities you found difficult to execute without a policy or mandate.”

B. There’s already a project in progress which sounds similar
  • “How long will that project take? We may be able to do something now.”

  • “That project will only produce a tool (e.g. mobile app), and that’s not quite the same thing we’re looking for here. Open data is about ensuring that the information itself is released in the best way possible for the public and for government. Apps and tools can serve this data or use it, but their existence doesn’t automatically mean the underlying data is being addressed. Working to improve this information can actually make any ongoing projects or initiatives stronger by providing a firmer bedrock of data to work with.”

43. We lost it (the data) / We don’t have it
  • “Where did it go? Who might have it or know where it went?”

  • “What information do you work with? It’s likely that, even if it doesn’t appear in a structured, tabular format, it’s data, and we can work with you to discuss the best way to translate that information into an electronic format that serves your needs and that of the public.”

  • “This is the data I see on your website. Do you know who could provide me with access to that information?”

This is the last post in our#WhyOpenData series. Stay tuned for a recap post later this week.