Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Transparency as a Stimulus

A bit off topic, but I just wanted to share a great article over at Wired about the transparency side benefits that may come along as a result of the stimulus package:
With President Obama's signing of the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” better known as our national Hail Mary stimulus bill, billions will be ladled for infrastructure projects ranging from roads to mass transit to rural broadband.

But the law also contains a measure promoting a less-noted type of economic infrastructure: government data. In the name of transparency, all the Fed’s stimulus-spending data will be posted at a new government site, Recovery.gov.

That step may be more than a minor victory for the democracy. It could be a stimulus in and of itself.

The reason, open government advocates argue, is that accessible government information—particularly databases released in machine-readable formats, like RSS, XML, and KML—spawn new business and grease the wheels of the economy. "The data is the infrastructure," in the words of Sean Gorman, the CEO of FortiusOne, a company that builds layered maps around open-source geographic information. For every spreadsheet squirreled away on a federal agency server, there are entrepreneurs like Gorman ready to turn a profit by reorganizing, parsing, and displaying it.

...

The more obvious economic benefits, however, will come from innovations that pop up around freely available data itself. Robinson and three Princeton colleagues argue in a recent Yale Journal of Law and Technology article that the federal government should focus on making as much data available as RSS feeds and XML data dumps, in lieu of spending resources to display the data themselves. “Private actors,” they write, “are better suited to deliver government information to citizens and can constantly create and reshape the tools individuals use to find and leverage public data.”

Check out http://www.recovery.gov/ and http://www.stimuluswatch.org/ to follow this story.

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