Restrictions are killing open government

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Many people in and around government understand and buy into the importance of open government efforts. Others, however, either fail to understand or seek to circumvent the goals of open government by setting forth restrictions that do not make sense.

Darrel W. Cole pointed me at the new Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Order Number 1370.14 which speaks to the use of social media and web 2.0 tools. While the order is very well written there is one aspect of it which essentially kills the entire order. Section 7.b.1 states:

All content to be shared on FHWA Social Media/Web 2.0 sites by FHWA employees and contractors must be approved by HPA prior to posting.

Yes…. Before a single tweet, status update, or blog post is shared it must go through an approval process. While this can, and often does, make sense for blog content, web pages, and press releases, it shows a complete lack of understanding to the fluidity of social media, the real-time responsiveness that is required, and the level of trust and open communication that is expected. That one line, 7.b.1, completely kills the ability of FHWA to have an effective social media presence.

As you probably know, Canada released its open data portal yesterday. David Eaves provided excellent analysis of this effort and you should give it a read. While the effort is well-intentioned the license being used makes the open data portal essentially unusable. David, when speaking about just one of the clauses in the license, notes “The problem here is that the clause is both sufficiently stifling and sufficiently negative that many businesses will see the risk of using this data simply too great“.

Then, at the local level, there is a constant battle to educate and enlighten. In Winthrop, Massachusetts, my home town, I recently made a request for information in original electronic format, Word documents. The response by the town manager was simply:

please know that we do not provide information to the public in formats that can be manipulated. This policy is not a matter of convenience for anyone but one of protecting individual privacy rights and ppreventing the misreporting of official government data

Even after I explained I would manually retype the information, at potentially high error rates, he was not swayed. Old-fashioned thinking is as much of a restriction to open government as poor licensing and faulty orders.

What restrictions are you seeing that prevent the effectiveness of open government efforts?

John

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