Friday, February 25, 2011
The Administration has made major strides in making more information transparent, and creating opportunities to use information to participate and collaborate in the processes of government. Agencies and external stakeholders alike must now work to increa


The other day a highly respected colleague, Reynolds Cahoon (formerly CIO for the National Archives and Records Administration) called to ask an excellent question:  is anyone thinking about a strategic approach to coalescing the vast quantity of information that now permeates government and its many stakeholders and constituents more than ever before?  

The Obama Administration has made tremendous progress through its open government initiative (  in “democratizing” data so that it is more available and accessible to the public, led by White House Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra, and Administrator for Information and Regulatory Affairs Cass Sunstein.  Citizens, businesses, and government employees get major benefits from new websites and sources, including and at the top level, and many GSA and agency–specific open government resources.  It may be time for a next phase in the evolution here – to introduce sound policy for how agencies and users can manage the wealth of data now accessible to them.

Information policy is not a new concept.  It has been a centerpiece of government management since the Federal Reports Act, and currently enshrined as law and policy under the Paperwork Reduction Act, E-Government Act, and OMB Circular A-130.  These statutes establish a number of principles that have stood the test of time for how information is collected, retained, and disseminated.  Whether they need to be updated in light of the vast changes in technology and social media is not the focus here – rather, it is whether the best practices they embody should be brought to light as a way to help manage the large and growing amount of government information.

As Reynolds and I talked, we thought that a renewed focus on applying sound information policy principles to help agencies and the public better integrate and use these new data sources could help change the game in a positive direction.  Some of these principles include:

  • Consider whether information is already available and can be accessed via a simple link, before collecting it anew or publishing a redundant data set 
  • Seek public input before posting information to make sure that it’s in a useful format 
  • Provide for good security and privacy -- limit the ability to identify individuals (made more challenging as technology and analytics allow new kinds of correlations to be made)
  • Ensure that data can be retained consistent with records management law and policy.
To this list, I might add one or more principles that help the users of government information manage data independently.  The point is not to limit the data that agencies release, but rather to empower individuals and businesses to understand and create value from that information.  Such user-centric principles might include:
  • making sure that data sets come through a common source that is easy to navigate, which could be accomplished through continued enhancements to
  • having a default policy that all data be released in open and non-proprietary formats that support analytics across heretofore disparate information stores.
  • making it easy to embed data or a data feed on other Agency information resource pages or on privately-managed sites
  • employing User Experience Design principles for information presentation.
  • optimizing delivery for mobile devices, increasingly the method used to access web resources.
  • aligning presentation with cross-agency, citizen-centric information channels in a way that makes sense to the citizen.
The Administration has made major strides in making more information transparent, and creating opportunities to use information to participate and collaborate in the processes of government.  By adapting good policy grounded in existing law to govern this new reality, agencies and external stakeholders alike can reinforce and increase the value of government information.  The goal is not to reduce the amount of information available to the public, but to ensure that relevant, high value information is readily usable.
Reynolds and I are starting a dialogue that we hope will point toward a set of actions around information management in a web x.0 world – interested allies, please join!