The Year of Data-Driven Government Accountability
BY ROBERT RUNGE
Voters on just about every continent are rightly demanding that public officials govern with relentless efficiency, fiscal responsibility, and transparency.
As political leaders and pundits continue to unpack the messages and implications of the 2014 mid-term elections in the United States, favorable winds are guiding governments all over the world in a new direction of accountability.
These favorable winds, which have helped elect a new generation of leaders in the U.S., Europe, South America, and Asia, clearly represent the voice of the people. But they are also the winds of the digital millennium—the era of open data and data-driven government.
Indeed, 2014 could be called the Year of Government Accountability, as voters on just about every continent have demanded that public officials govern with relentless efficiency, fiscal responsibility, and transparency.
Presenting facts to decision-makers where and when they are needed is one of the most urgent technology priorities of our time. The good news is that we’re seeing progress on this front each and every day.
As Republican strategist Frank Luntz noted in the New York Times op-ed the morning after the U.S. mid-terms: “The results were less about the size of government than about making government efficient, effective and accountable.”
It’s no accident that these voter demands have coincided with ubiquitous Internet connections and universal proliferation of instantaneous communication and information access. People’s lives everywhere have been transformed by the ability to harness online data and facts in their day-to-day personal decision-making—and they’re now demanding the same of their governments.
The implications of this on the business of government will be enormous and massively beneficial, and I believe that the results will be better public-sector decisions, wiser use of tax dollars, streamlining of public budgets, and a systematic reduction of spending.
To rise above subjective political forces, however, government accountability must be based on quantitative reference standards. Therefore, a digital system of measurement—based on near real-time empirical evidence and an ability and willingness to incorporate all stakeholders’ input and feedback—is imperative.
Put another way, the goals and metrics of the new government accountability must be easily accessible from open, public websites—and they must also be presented in a content-rich consumer-friendly user interface. As demonstrated during the painful rollout of the Affordable Care Act Web programs, nothing short of a state-of-the-art user experience is acceptable.
Another important component of government accountability is a willingness and openness on the part of public officials to admit mistakes in a new world of digital transparency. When technology-driven facts and data show shortfalls in measurable, goal-driven performance, government leaders need to stand up, publicly shoulder the responsibility, and fix things.
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The bottom line, in my view, is that facts must be the fundamental basis for critical and strategic decision-making at every level of government around the world today.
This belief—the foundation of massive technology and social movements, such as open data, big data, and data-driven government—is currently shared by a number of global government leaders. Just recently, for example, President Obama declared that “We must respond based on facts, not fear” when confronting the global Ebola crisis.
To be sure, presenting facts to decision-makers where and when they are needed is one of the most urgent technology priorities of our time. The good news is that we’re seeing progress on this front each and every day as civic organizations around the world rush to open their vast troves of data on the Internet and usher in a new era in data-driven government that will produce facts at the speed of light, and deliver them in context to political leaders, everyday citizens, professional academicians, scientists, journalists, and software developers wherever they are connected to the Web.
Data-driven government, which capitalizes on data, one of the most valuable natural resources of the 21st century, is a breakthrough opportunity of truly significant proportions. And it will be absolutely critical if governments everywhere are to achieve their ultimate mission. Without it, I worry that we just won’t be able to provide citizens with a higher quality of life and with greater opportunities to achieve their full potential.