The Open Data Portal

If you are looking for proof that information is power, perhaps the best evidence can be found in the converse condition. When Governor Dannel P. Malloy was first elected in 2010, he took the helm of a state government with a $3.6 billion deficit. He concluded after some investigation that the state ended up in such a weak condition because of a lack of information. On Monday, he told an open data conference of the Connecticut Data Collaborative that the inefficiencies that plagued the previous administration could have been remedied by a freer flow of information. In creating a more efficient state government, he said, “We may find we’re collecting insufficient information, the wrong information, or we’re asking the wrong questions.” The remedy, he hopes, will be the Connecticut Open Data Portal, which the governor has created by executive order.

Executive Order No. 39 instructs appointed state agency heads to start collecting and sharing data at the portal, which is expected to go public in four to six weeks at data.ct.gov. From the perspective of state bureaucrats, the data sharing plan offers Connecticut the opportunity to initiate “data-driven governing,” freeing agencies to collaborate on the basis of “raw data” that has not been aggregated, analyzed, and otherwise shaped with a specific purpose or outcome in mind. The emphasis on stats over spin should help Connecticut’s administrators innovate and operate more effectively and efficiently. That’s the concept, anyway. Bureaucracy has a habit of swallowing concepts whole and forgetting about them as soon as the next big idea comes along.

From the perspective of the citizens of Connecticut, however, the Open Data Portal is an opportunity to reverse a disturbing trend in the cranky people/government relationship where information flows only in one direction. There was a lot of talk at Monday’s open data conference about “silos” of data collected and hoarded by state agencies, which see themselves a proprietors of the data, entitled to use it and control it as they see fit. As Secretary of the State Denise Merrill pointed out, that gives us a “government of secrets where only those who know the right people or the right questions to ask can have access to the most interesting information.” Or, as New Haven Mayor Toni Harp put it, “It’s limiting access to the best decision.”

By sharing raw governmental data with the public, Connecticut’s administrators will also be sharing power, extending the benefits of data-driven governance to include access to not only the best administrative decisions but also to the best electoral decisions. That may end up being the most enduring benefit of this move toward open data. The only thing worse than a government operating with insufficient information is a voter operating with insufficient information.

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