lundi, septembre 01, 2014

Open data and democracy

This post is the translation of my blogpost "L'open data est-il soluble dans la big society ?" by André Confiado of Five by Five

An article entitled "Is open data a political illusion ?" appeared beginning of July on the journal MyScienceWork, then reprinted in La gazette des Communes, and then by Rue89.

This interview by Evelyne Ruppert, a British sociologist and notably the writer of the blog Big data and society, is inspired by her work on transparency in Britain which she appears to know well, but adapter to the French approach, of which she appears to know a little less.

Evelyne Ruppert formulates an analysis which can be summarized as:
absolute transparency is an illusion, since governments always choose what they want to communicate, and never share the most important information ;
- transparency does not build confidence, but rather mistrust, since it can never be complete ;
- the steps for transparent limits citizens to data that we’d like to transmet to them ;
- Open Data promises a more direct rapport with power, but in fact creates a new technocracy, that of those that can understand data ;
- thus, close attention has to be paid to documenting the data itself (who created it, when, why, etc.) in order to allow citizens to criticize the data that is given to them.

Double mistrust

A number of friends ask me what I think of this paper. It’s embarrassing: I more or less agree with everything that it says, but I don't  really concerned.

Fundamentally, I think Evelyne Ruppert reasons from an implicit idea that I would qualify as a "model of double mistrust."

Her implicit reading of the Open Data movement is the following: as a response to the increasing mistrust of citizens, governments decided to release certain information allowing citizens to control them better, hoping to restore this confidence.

I do not know if this reasoning exists elsewhere. One feels that this is related to the British context where open data is hard to separate from the Big Society project. However, what I know is that this is not the context of the French government, and that it is not the spirit in which Etalab works.

In France, the opening and sharing of public data is not seen as an end by itself, but rather levers that can serve three objectives:
- a more complete democracy;
- innovation and growth;
- and a more efficient public action.