In my post the other day on Government 2.0, I highlighted the baby names explorer as being symbol of the problem the government needed to solve rather than an aspiration. One of the developers of that explorer, Seb Chan at the Powerhouse Museum, has written a post about Government 2.0. It is a great read throughout. He describes his work on cross-government data as “has been fascinating and heartbreaking at the same time.” And in response to my post he adds:
Likewise, Joshua Gans criticism of the NSW Baby Names Explorer that my team worked on is entirely justified – “why not release the data?”. Indeed. If we had owned the data we would have . . . we initially had to scrape it form its source to build the prototype! As I wrote in an email relayed to Joshua, the project was about offering an alternative visualisation solution than releasing the actual dataset. Building an alternative visualisation was intended to provide better access to a few single use cases of personalised trend data (”how are the names I am thinking of calling my child trending?”). These were the kinds of questions that were left unanswered on the Births Deaths and Marriages annual league tables, and it was hoped that a new way of looking at the same data might inspire Births Deaths and Marriages to free up the raw data to others – making services for prospective parents isn’t anywhere near their core business. I say ‘hoped’ because of the plethora of roadblocks that had to be navigated even to get a (inside government) third party visualisation of births data online.
I think it served its task well visualising to me, at least, what could be done. People like Seb get it and are standing at the roadblocks hoping to be let through. This gives me hope that maybe a broader cultural change within government is possible if those roadblocks are removed.