In an interview with Wired, Vivek Kundra, Obama’s Chief Information Officer, says Obama plans to post online every scrap of government information they can and make them easily to search. Why?
The key is to have debates and analysis and discussions that are fact-based. And for everyone to have access to that raw data, the raw facts. I would go back to 1776 and the model of the public square. Democratizing data enables comparative analysis of the services the government provides and the investments it makes, leading to a better government….
By democratizing data, the American people will be able to hold their government accountable, based on evidence rather than talk.
That’s essentially the argument of the next step in my model: to bring about change, you have to make the issue visible — and do it with evidence you can measure.
Why is visibility so important? Let’s go back to the issue of worklife balance. Suppose there was an easy way to tell how seriously every organization took worklife balance. With that info, we’d have several carrots & sticks we could use to push for change:
- Stack the Deck in favor of worklife-friendly organizations, such as giving them tax breaks, a leg up in bidding for government contracts, etc. The higher the score, the bigger the bennies.
- Create a movement to hold organizations accountable. If a company’s branding is all about how much they care about your family, why isn’t this “family-friendly” company helping its staff take care of their families? If their ads say, women should buy our soap/shoes/magazine because it’ll help them feel empowered, what about empowering the mothers who work for them so they can have a career and take care of their family without being a nervous, exhausted wreck?
- Create competition between organizations — for bragging rights with customers, for competing to hire the best employees, etc.
- Make it easier for workers to negotiate for more worklife balance, either through their union if they have one or through lobbying inside their organization if they don’t.
Here’s the catch: first we have to figure out how we are going to measure worklife balance. And that’s no easy task. It’s something I plan to work on over the next year or so. It’s worth putting the time in, because visibility pays off.
Visibility alone won’t solve most problems. But to solve most problems, you need to make them visible.
A side note:
When Kundra was asked, “Do you worry that all this data will come out and benefit only the few elite or tech-savvy groups that know how to use it?” he dodged the question. But even though this issue is near and dear to my heart, I think we ought to give him a break on this one. His real answer was probably something like, “Are you out of your freakin’ mind? Do you have any idea how insanely hard it’s going to be to wrestle all this data out of the claws of every bureaucrat who’s terrified of what will happen when everyone can see what they do? Not to mention all the corporations and everybody else who’s data we collect? You really think hospitals, insurance companies, and drug companies want any of their shared out in public? This is trench war, baby. Yes, eventually we want to make the data truly accessible to everybody, but first we’ve got to make it accessible at all.”