There's no question that open data can provide citizens with more information and transparency about how government is operating and the results it's getting. But that's only half of the equation: We believe that open data produces not just more informed citizens, but also, ultimately, better government. To make that equation come true, though, we have to be vigilant about tracking how people are using data, and incorporating those innovations back into the fabric of government.
Think of the Mozilla model: Sure, they make their source code open, but that on its own isn't worth much. What makes Firefox a great product is that they ruthlessly monitor what people do with that source code, and use those innovations to make Firefox better. So when you go through that 18-second download, you're downloading the product of thousands of hours of coding and innovation. People should be able to experience government the same way: Making data free should make government better even for the people who aren't downloading and experimenting with the data.
There are models for doing this. Socrata tracks how people filter particular data sets to answer specific questions; DataMasher is centered entirely not on "what data do we have" but on "what are people doing with it."
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