Fewer State Reports, But More Open Data

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Gov. Jerry Brown missed an opportunity when he announced that he was eliminating hundreds of state reports – and seeking to eliminate hundreds more.

Brown was trying to convey that the state was buckling down and eliminating waste. But frugality was the only message. He should have paired that move with a call for more engagement – and openness.

Instead of just eliminating reports, Brown should have declared that – in place of state reports – he would order all state departments, commissions and others to make as much data as possible available on-line. That way, citizens, coders and others could use the data to create tools that would serve the public.

Open data or open government is a rising force. Local governments have been doing more of it (notably in the Bay Area). San Francisco has a chief innovation officer to assist in putting out data that hackers and coders can play around with so they can produce useful apps (that make it easier to fix a playground or grab a cab).

And indeed, California was one of the first states to launch a repository of open data. But it could be stronger, with more data. The Brown administration should make this a priority.

The state of California desperately needs the energy and ideas and engagement that open data may inspire. If government is going to do less, it should give citizens the opportunity to do more.

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