The Yu and Robinson article "The New Ambiguity of 'Open Government'" was something I read a few years ago. I disagree that the edge of open government is going away. Yes there are data sets being published that have nothing to do with accountability. Yes there are open data initiatives that stand up a few data sets and call it "open". This does not mean that all or most open data professionals do this. This whole line of "government versus the people" is one of the reasons Public Sector Agencies (PSA's) have trouble getting open data initiatives launched in the first place.

The main issue is the disconnect between PSAs and the private sector. There is little, if any, discussion on the value-add of releasing these data. This is not purely a government issue. Private sector, with a few shining exceptions (BuildingEye for example) have shied away from using or even trying to use these data. PSAs see this lack of engagement and fail to rise to the occasion. This causes many PSA open data efforts to stagnate.

What PSA Open Data was Supposed to do

David Sasaki makes good points at the end of his blog post. Open data should strive to reduce poverty, corruption and and reduce operational inefficiencies. This will not happen with just transparency. Open government should be creating collaborative data driven policy between government and citizens.

There are several problems with the arguments made by critics of open data such as Yu and Robinson:

  • Government is a collection of people and not a single entity
  • Agencies in government view data as political leverage to affect policy and create relationships with other agencies.
  • Mandated open data initiatives that do not give agencies any incentive to share will fail.
  • Failure is not caused by government's inherent desire for secrecy but rather in elected officials, citizens and activists not understanding the culture of government workers and agencies.
  • Arguments about government intent are facile since elected officials do not wield as much power internally as in commonly believed.
  • An Example of Transparency and Culture Clashes at the Federal Level:
  • Below I have quoted another article that speaks more toward the culture of government. So far there have been very few government employed open data people talking about open government data. I think it is important to understand the culture of government in the United States

The article below discusses the US Federal initiative and why it has not met expectations.

"When Transparency and Collaboration Collide" This is not a free download but does explore why open data initiatives have problems.

"When Transparency and Collaboration Collide" analyzes why has had issues with getting data from more than a few agencies and examines the motives for why agencies have been passive-aggressive in complying with President Obama's executive order. The reasons are rooted in how agencies interact with one another and use data as bargaining chips rather than any attempt to be secretive.

The Red Herring: Government is Inherently Secretive

One of the themes that I feel is a red herring is this argument that government is hijacking open data initiatives as a way to be less transparent. Certainly there are dubious initiatives. I don't know the details of the open data efforts in Kenya but I will take the author's word for it. Government is not that smart. I know very well at the municipal, county and state level that the governments involved in my open data initiative are not monolithic omniscient entities. Internally, government is a series of departments and people often with differing agendas that makes getting meaningful work done difficult even with strong executive buy-in.

This argument distracts from the real problems open data initiatives face. Governments are not people with personalities. Governments are collections of people that share a culture. This is something I talked about with Open Ireland. Agencies that report to the executive branch of the federal government and that were affected by President Obama's executive order had no incentive to cooperate. Far from having an incentive agencies would lose political power by complying with the order. These reasons had nothing to do with transparency and show a complete failure of this open data initiative to understand the culture of the agencies affected by the order.

Federal agencies exchange data sets with each other using an MOU/SLA contract that specifies how the data is to be used and how the data will be delivered. This data contract is something well understood in technology circles and is something that is a feature in web services created through Service Oriented Architectures (SOA). Understanding how and why data is traded among agencies is the first step toward creating an incentive for them to share data with the public.

Let me restate that nowhere does any agency have an incentive to be secretive as a way to cover up corruption or other abuses of the public trust. That is not to say that abuses do not happen. In the case of this was not at issue. At issue was an agency desire to create benefit from distributing the data.

When the open data folks at suggested developing an internal framework for exchanging data sets through contracts between data stewards and data consumers the agencies were much more likely to keep their data fresh, complete and in compliance with the executive order. This internal framework made it easier for agencies to license data to each other and to deliver data through SOA based web services.

To summarize the discussion should be how to work with government to create meaningful open data initiatives. Municipalities such as mine have seen the benefit in narrating major issues within the community and seeking a way to collaborate with citizens using data to drive policy decisions.

The Government does not have a plan for Open Data

This is not a red herring and acknowledged as an over-generalization. Since the government is not monolithic but, rather, a set of individuals pursuing their own agendas it must also be true that governments have a varying ability of know-how. By know-how I mean the "government" in question will be challenged on how to keep engagement between citizens, private sector and the public data the PSA releases. 

Where we have gained some traction is through those that have managed to push through data standards such as LIVES and BILDS. Having a data standard attracts private sector. It opens the market to create applications and tools that can cross jurisdictions. I would argue even that government should be in the business of developing standards with private sector and outsource the release of open data to private sector. This model works well with Acella. Mark Headd and Brian Gryth have successfully used a private cloud vendor to help cities and other PSAs to release data. Unfortunately the next step of the maturity model in using PSA data is vague. 

How can "government" create incentive and at the same time demonstrate value in opening PSA data? This is something that I have not been able to answer. This may also be my own lack of imagination at fault. I invite my colleagues to weigh in.


    3 comments Add your comment



    • Thorhildur Jetzek, Ph.D.

      Researcher - big data analytics, platforms and value creation

      Thanks for an interesting post. I think in a way you have given the answer yourself. Of course organizations are widely different and individuals are different and countries have different cultures. But there are some assumptions about human nature we can borrow from fields like behavioral economics. Most people like to be helpful and to feel that their work has meaning. Thus, it makes sense that when the organizations know that their data is useful, and it is made evident by means such as SLAs, they have the incentives to continue to provide the data in useful formats. The problem with many ODIs is that they do not see or know how the data are used and therefore the public organizations do not get this feeling of having contributed something important. Therefore some level of collaboration or communication is needed. I know that many open data enthusiasts will argue that you need to be able to get the data without any registration or any contact whatsoever. I do not fully agree. I think that even if data are free, there should be some communcation with the eventual users, otherwise the uncertainty is too high on both sides and data will not be used and when they are not used, probably not maintained for long. I am not quite sure why it is so important that there is no registration, probably something to do with corrupt governments, but we live in a world of contracts and in the Scandinavian countries I know, the government is your friend, not your enemy. Which is kind of an underlying foundation for open government, otherwise it doesn´t make any sense. My take on this is that we need somehow to make all of the communication and use of data more visible to decision makers - but it is not necessary that this visibility happens via buying and selling. Great case studies are for instance helpful, but I know from a fact that in many cases there is a huge "knowledge gap" regarding what happens from data being provided and until the eventual value is created and captured. September 16, 2015

      Jason Hare

      • Show More


      Deepak Chopra MD (official)

      Founder, Chopra Foundation



      Oct 22, 2016




      In a tense and uncertain job market, the advice on how to succeed doesn't change. wise heads speak about hard work, seizing opportunities, taking calculated risks, following your passion, and so on. Let's set this advice aside for a moment. More attention needs to be paid to what not to do, especially now, when opportunities for many appear to be shrinking. There are three common mistakes that people make in their careers, not just at the entry level of when changing jobs but endemically.


      In other words, their careers are blocked by their beliefs and the point of view they take. In my experience, the worst things you can do in the course of your career are the following:


      1. Setting your expectations too low.

      2. Feeling that you have to be certain.

      3. Not seeing how much you will grow.


      Let me explain each one, although in the end they are intimately connected.


      Mistake #1: Low expectations

      There are a few people gifted with roaring self-confidence who expect to conquer the world. But most people are insecure and uncertain. They want to feel safe, and they think that by lowering their expectations, a sense of security will come to them. It isn't true. Setting your expectations too low traps you into jobs that have a low possibility of expanding into anything worthwhile. For every copy boy who becomes editor of the newspaper, every tour guide in Hollywood who sells a blockbuster script, there are hundreds more who remain stuck in those

      jobs. It's not really the job that keeps anyone stuck; it's the psychological limitation of setting your expectations too low.


      Mistake #2: The Trap of Certainty

      Life is uncertain, and the vast majority of people feel so uneasy about this that they seize on certainty when they shouldn't. They follow the opinions of the people around them, go to work where they are expected to, and only feel secure when they fit in. Yet real success is built upon making peace with uncertainty, turning the unknown into a field of creative possibilities. Personal uncertainty is hard, undoubtedly. It takes a conscious effort to place yourself in a position where things are open-ended. but if you don't, the other alternative is being in a position that's closed off.


      Mistake #3: Neglecting Growth

      Most job interviews follow the same pattern, where the applicant tries to prove, even before setting foot in the door, that he knows how to handle the job. This ritual is empty, a piece of drama that's supposed to show confidence. In reality, great careers are built on growth. Seeing your own potential to grow isn't easy, especially when you are young. But it's a mistake not to see that you will grow, meaning that your future self, although out of reach, has an enormous amount to offer. What you can do today, what you know and how far you can see--this is all provisional, awaiting the mysterious process of growth.


      What ties these three mistakes together is everyone's inability to predict who they will be in the future. Insecurity, anxiety, and the pressure to hold a job are powerful forces. They tempt us into believing that we will always feel what we feel now, always think the way we do now, always see the world through the lens of the present anxiety. The need to feel secure is what gets most people into trouble, which is why the three big career mistakes are so prevalent.


      The way to avoid these pitfalls is by working on your core beliefs, exchanging the ones that hold you back for ones that meet the future without anxiety. To raise your expectations means approaching your life, not just your job, with open-ended goals that can bear fruit over the long haul. Here's a set of mental guidelines that link many of the world's most successful people:


      * I need to find out who I really am.

      * I want to expand and grow.

      * I must have a vision that I can follow for years, an aspiration that fits my highest self.

      * I will keep evolving without limit.

      * I listen to my surroundings and act on the signals being sent to me.

      * I keep an open mind.

      * I have learned to live with uncertainty, turning fear into a belief in the wisdom of uncertainty.

      * I listen inside to make sure I'm being true to myself.

      * I admit when I'm wrong and turn this into a way forward.


      This may seem like a long list, but if you want a single productive change that grows out of it, here's what works: Associate with people who hold these ideas and follow them. You don't have to enter a formal mentoring relationship; in fact, it would be better if the people you bond with are your own age. As a group you can form an echelon of shared beliefs to support and encourage one another. Then the job you are holding, good or bad, is secondary. Primary is your sense of promise, which grows and expands naturally. That's an ideal you can begin to attain today.

      Deepak Chopra MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation, and is Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Endocrinology and Metabolism. He is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians and a member of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. The World Post and The Huffington Post global internet survey ranked Chopra #17 influential thinker in the world and #1 in Medicine. Chopra is the author of more than 80 books translated into over 43 languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His latest books are Super Genes co-authored with Rudolph Tanzi, PhD and Quantum Healing (Revised and Updated): Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body


        Louis M. Profeta MD

        Emergency Physician at St. Emergency Physicians Inc., Author and Public Speaker on the Topic of Spirituality in Medicine



        Oct 22, 2016



        “What do you do for a living,” the young man asked me.

        “I’m an emergency physician. How about you?”

        “I’m just a chef,” he replied.

        “Pal, I can live a lifetime without medicine. I can only live a week without food.”

        Sometimes a group a people you speak to love you. Other times, well — hate may be a bit strong, but they are far less enamored with what you have to say. This is a tale of the latter, and to tell you the truth, I’m kind of proud of it.

        Recently, an incredibly inspiring physician invited me to speak at a conference, the central theme being burnout in medicine. I really thought I had a handle on this being that I had been practicing emergency medicine for nearly 25 years and I did not feel burned out, which as I just learned is way above the average for ER physicians who typically have a burnout rate of more than 50%. In fact, in our very large private physician group, the rate of burnout and attrition is, well, damn near close to zero. So why is that? What were we doing right? Certainly we are all very supportive of each other. We are all completely bogged down in electronic medical record keeping, seas of bureaucracy, fears of malpractice and other stressors including working far more hours than most other physicians in our specialty. What is it about us? I truly think it comes to four simple words that all of us have grown to embrace. Those words?

        It’s just a job.

        Let that sink in a bit because when I proposed that to this group of nurses, physicians and nurse practitioners, you would have thought I just stood up and proclaimed I was the antichrist. Even though I prefaced it during my talk by elaborating and saying that medicine is  (a deeply rewarding career choice, I insisted that it’s not our life. I tried to express that it’s simply a wonderful, marvelous and mystical avenue to allow us the opportunity to pursue meaningful work, make a good living, support our families and to do a job that allows us to see and do many magical things. I also said that I felt it was not a prerequisite to always practice with compassion. Compassion means to suffer with others. I proposed that we do not need to suffer. Our role is to be there, provide comfort, alleviate suffering, listen and be engaged. We don’t HAVE to feel every bit of it viscerally but certainly there will be times where we truly connect and we will. But it’s also OK when we don’t. We don’t have to take every single emotion home, internalize it and make it part of our being. Which, in today’s society of rapid extrapolation, registered as:

        “He must not listen to his patients.”

        I tried to explain that I feel our emotions wax and wane day-to-day and minute-to-minute. It does not mean for one second that we are incapable of providing excellent care during those times and that this emotional separation does keep you sane and helps prevent burnout and allows you to focus on your job.

        That wasn’t good enough for these attendees. In fact, one pretty much raised her hand, took the mic and said she was highly offended that I would say or even imply that medicine was just a job. She said she would not want to have a physician like me and there is no way that you can “fake” compassion. That’s when Starbucks entered my brain.

        How often does a barista smile at you, thank you and tell you to have a good day? How often do you walk away feeling good that he or she was so welcoming and friendly? How often do you know what happened to them last night, what news they got this morning, how much money is in their bank account, what their marriage is like? Let me help you out with the answer … pretty much never. So do you think that patients are any different than you in those moments? You smile, listen, stroke their hands and offer words of comfort. Do you think the patient pauses and asks themselves about what happened to you last night, how marriage is, what is going on in your life? They just want to feel comforted.

        One attendee warmly smirked at me earlier at dinner. 

        “I just don’t buy your assertion that it is just a job.” She motioned to the bartender. “Look, he just pours drinks and you say my job is no different than his?”

        I tilted my glasses down and stared into her eyes.

        “What if I told you that he works three jobs to support a disabled child at home and that this late-night job affords him the opportunity to buy her a few things that make her smile and feel special. Perhaps some toys he could otherwise not afford or a new dress perhaps. You think your job is so much better than his because you hold someone’s hand when they are sick instead of passing a beer?”

        I like to think she bowed her a head a bit in shame perhaps, but I’m not so sure.

        As the discussion went on that morning, a common theme emerged. Many of these people did not want suggestions on how to keep from being burned out. What they wanted was to be fawned over and congratulated on how compassionate they were, and how they had the hardest jobs in the world, and that no one could possibly understand the work or appreciate how hard their jobs were. I’m sorry, I said. “I just don’t buy it. You invited me; I’m not here to validate you. That has to come from within.”

        You see, I think we are a bit elitist as to how we view ourselves in medicine at times. Sure, this is a very hard job, charged with emotion; it leads to crying, heartbreak and nightmares on occasion. But it is also filled with incredible rewards both spiritually and even financially.

        One speaker, who was a physician and also a faculty member at Duke’s school of divinity, disagreed with my assertion and proposed that medicine was different, though. In a way, it was an embodiment of Christ’s principals of healing and was perhaps the first real charitable endeavor. I turned to him and said something to the effect.

        “Yeah, that’s all fine and dandy but if it weren’t for the farmers, shepherds and fisherman during that time, the weak and infirm would just have been a source of protein.”

        One attendee lamented about caring for a patient who was recovering from a procedure that went against her own personal values. She said she was distressed and angered by this; I believe what she hoped for was for me to embrace her distress, validate it, provide words of comfort and support and give advice on how to change. Even though, mind you, she said the patient was happy and very comforted by her care. I looked at her and responded.

        “So what? That’s your job. You are supposed to provide care regardless of your values.”

        She snapped at me.

        “Yeah, but what about me?”

        “What about you?” I replied. “It’s not about you. It’s about your patient. It’s about caring for your patient. That’s what you signed up for.”

        This gave an opportunity for another speaker to chime in and take advantage of what he felt was oratory faux pas. “I believe this is more than a job. It’s a passion,” with reverent emphasis on the word “passion.” The crowed nodded in agreement, then turned and glared at me some more. I gave them one of those head tilting “whatever” looks.

        “Listen, your passion should be your family, those around you that you love. You have to separate the two. There is not one of you that would not abandon your job for the sake of someone who you love and who needs you.” You see, I know this from experience, from deep within my gut.

        Two Septembers ago, I got a call from a hospital in New York. My son who was in college at the time was just diagnosed with leukemia. Fifteen minutes later, I jumped in a car and drove all night to New York, pretty much crying and pounding the steering wheel all along the way. I called one of my partners and said, “I am not coming to work. I have no idea how long I’ll be gone. If you need to hire someone to replace me, go right ahead.” I slept in a chair next to his bed for 42 days. Do you think for one second I regretted not going to work? I’d give up medicine and clean outhouses at Woodstock for all eternity if it meant I could help my child. People in medicine often say you can’t separate the two. I say bullshit. You just don’t know any better.

        Listen, no matter how we like to hold up ourselves as the pillars of compassion, the keepers of the public well-being, we are just one profession out of countless others that keep our world moving. We are no more heroes than the social worker visiting homes in the projects, the farmer up at 4 to feed the cattle, the ironworker strapped to a beam on the 50th floor. We are no more a hero than the single mom working overnight as a custodian, trying to feed her kids. We are no more heroic than countless others who work in jobs they perhaps hate in order to care for and support the people they love.

        Maybe I’m wrong in telling the group that medicine is just a job, but I am damn sure we in medicine are all wrong if we think our job is somehow more special and valuable than the bartender’s.

        Dr. Louis M. Profeta is an emergency physician practicing in Indianapolis. He is the author of the critically acclaimed book, The Patient in Room Nine Says He's God.

        Feedback at is welcomed.

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