Mr. Ivanishvili, please don't sell open government short
On Thursday prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili stated that the government of Georgia should work more uniformly to publish data electronically on their websites. In short, according to Mr. Ivanishvili, his government is making a list of all the things that should proactively be made public.
We would like to applaud these statements and support the government in any way we can to make public data increasingly accessible to the people that actually paid for it. That is you. Mr. Ivanishvili and the government did today what Saakashvili should have done when he, and then prime minister Gregory Vashadze, first committed Georgia to the Open Government Partnership in the fall of 2011. That is, they should have used their position to make a strong public statement about Georgia's commitment to transparency and openness. But they didn't.
Your money pays for the government to do what it does day-to-day and you should have access to see what it is doing and see if you can benefit from its work. You should have access to it because that is the only way you can engage your elected representatives and help create the Georgia you want to exist. You have to engage. And to engage, you have to be informed. To be informed, you need access to relevant and comprehensive information in a timely manner.
JumpStart Georgia, since our humble beginnings in 2009, has worked hard to make data that ought to be public, public. We have focused on street data and maps which are now usable by you via Google, Nokia, OpenStreetMap, and more. We have focused on election data, which is now accessible and usable more than ever before at http://data.electionportal.ge/. We have focused on Parliament Voting Records data, which is now available to you at http://votes.parliament.ge/ and via a public API at http://votes.parliament.ge/en/api/v1/. We strive to not only make public information public and accessible, but to also make it so you can use it and understand it. Check out http://www.feradi.info, where we use freedom of information requests and publicly available data to bring you important data-driven stories in creative ways.
It is stemming from our experience, and from the experience of others, that we would request a slightly different approach. Mr. Ivanishvili stated his government is making a list of all the things that the Georgian government should proactively make public, but we think he should take a different approach to proactive disclosure.
Mr. Ivanishvili, we think a better approach would be to make everything public and online. If there is a list to be made, it is what the government (of the people) thinks shouldn't be public, why you think it shouldn't be public, and the person who decided that it shouldn't be public.
We understand that the government cannot implement this type of proactive disclosure overnight, but it is a goal towards which the government should strive. It is important because otherwise, we will always be limited to what the government posts. All other data, even if it ought to be public by law, will be accessible at the discretion of the agency that manages it. Here, the vending machine metaphor comes in handy. By making a list of what should be proactively published, it is like choosing what goes into a vending machine. Yes, you think that by having a choice, you have options and your choice is yours alone. But in reality, you should be able to choose what goes into the vending machine in the first place. The government is in a position to make all data public except that which should not be for specific and deliberate reasons. We want a big vending machine.
Why so big? Because we don't always know what role data can play in solving social problems, informing the public, developing the economy, or just making our lives easier (as in open digital street data for maps). Our options should not be limited by those who cannot foresee the potential of data or combining different kinds of data. And none of us can foresee how data can be used to make Georgia a better country.
Thank you, Mr. Ivanishvili for stepping up and showing strong leadership today for a more open government tomorrow. However, lets not limit ourselves from the outset.