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Transparency can't shine without context

"Transparency! Transparency! Transparency!" is the chant of the federal government these days. But there’s another term that is just as important.

The word is context, according to Danny Harris, CIO of the Education Department.

“Are we doing a good enough job explaining the data to the public,” he told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and Procurement Reform Subcommittee at a hearing today. The subcommittee was looking at the poor government data quality in federal databases open to the public.

The government has numerous public websites with all sorts of information and datasets on them to become more open and accountable to the taxpayer. It’s working, as it opens the government. However, most of the public doesn’t understand the datasets and the information posted on sites such as USASpending.gov and Data.gov and other department-based websites.

When average people look at one government website with data and then goes to a different federal website to search for similar data, they expect to see the same numbers. If the numbers are different, then there appears to be a problem with agencies’ information, Harris said.

But different websites host different types of data. One may include a unique mixture of numbers that aren't required in another database.

Still, to people who aren’t given context it seems there’s a problem, Harris said.

That’s why it’s tough to make all the datasets and websites appear clean and reliable to the average person.

In a complex world of government data numbers and datasets and data figures and data standards, context along with open data may provide something as important as transparency.

Posted by Matthew Weigelt on Mar 11, 2011 at 12:11 PM


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