With the inauguration of US President-Elect Barack Obama later today – we thought we’d prepare a brief list of things he can do to promote openness in his new role.

  1. Open government data. Make core government data open (as in opendefinition.org) – so that it can be re-used in mashups, visually represented, used in semantic web applications and so on! This idea is currently in 5th place on the Obama CTO site with over 5,800 votes.
  2. Open access to publicly funded research. As suggested by Open Knowledge Foundation Advisory Board member, Peter Suber: “Require open access to the results of non-classified research funded by taxpayers. Extend the exemplary policy now in place at the NIH to all federal agencies.”. Currently in 12th place on ObamaCTO with over 1,600 votes.
  3. Publish public information in way which makes it easy to re-use. For example, publish in XML or Text/CSV, not PDF files which data must be extracted from. Allow direct, bulk downloading, rather than access through an API or piecemeal access via a web service. (For more on this see our post Give Us the Data Raw, and Give it to Us Now.)The Data Catalogue of Vivek Kundra’s Office in the District of Columbia is a great example of this.
  4. Legal and licensing clarity. Be clear about what can and can’t be done with public content and data – with explicit legal and licensing statements, terms of use, and so on. Be clear what is in the public domain and what is free for re-use as long as attribution is given. Be clear about what is not available for use – including material where copyright is held by third parties. Fine grained permissions – with clear terms for each document and dataset – are better than blanket statements, which require each case to be investigated individually!
  5. Make it open by default. Make public content and data – whether its government data, or publicly funded digitisation of cultural heritage artefacts – open by default. Though this is not appropriate for everything, consider allowing as much as possible to be re-used. Think of the ‘Principle of Many Minds’ – there are lots of interesting things that can be done with a given document or dataset that you may not have thought of!
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Dr. Jonathan Gray is Lecturer in Critical Infrastructure Studies at the Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London, where he is currently writing a book on data worlds. He is also Cofounder of the Public Data Lab; and Research Associate at the Digital Methods Initiative (University of Amsterdam) and the médialab (Sciences Po, Paris). More about his work can be found at jonathangray.org and he tweets at @jwyg.

5 thoughts on “What Obama can do to promote openness”

  1. Ed Felten has just published a short piece on this on his Freedom to Tinker blog:

    The second challenge is transparency. We can harness the potential of digital technology to make government more open, leading toward a better informed and more participatory civic life. Some parts of government are already making exciting progress, and need high-level support; others need to be pushed in the right direction. One key is to ensure that data is published in ways that foster reuse, to support an active marketplace of ideas in which companies, nonprofits, and individuals can find the best ways to analyze, visualize, and “mash up” government information.

  2. He’s already started:
    Protect the Openness of the Internet: Support the principle of network neutrality to preserve the benefits of open competition on the Internet.
    Open Up Government to its Citizens: Use cutting-edge technologies to create a new level of transparency, accountability, and participation for America’s citizens.

    but my favourite:
    Pursuant to federal law, government-produced materials appearing on this site are not copyright protected. The United States Government may receive and hold copyrights transferred to it by assignment, bequest, or otherwise.

    Except where otherwise noted, third-party content on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Visitors to this website agree to grant a non-exclusive, irrevocable, royalty-free license to the rest of the world for their submissions to Whitehouse.gov under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License

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