Cultivating a Data Culture in the United States

A few weeks ago, the AidData Partnership co-hosted a consultation event at the OpenGov Hub with Department of State's Office of US Foreign Assistance Resources, the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) and USAID Global Development Lab. Under the theme of "Do More With Data," this event featured participants from the public and private sectors, spanning the spectrum of open supply and demand.

From my perspective, what was most striking about this event was hearing representatives from the US Government (USG) express the same types of frustrations as Development Gateway’s international government partners – the challenges of securing internal buy-in for procedural changes, reporting burdens, system incompatibilities, inter-agency data sharing, and more.

In truth, these obstacles should not have been surprising. The USG, like all other governments, is composed of thousands of individuals, obligations, and technological systems.

And fortunately, like many other governments, the USG is filled with people pushing for better, more innovative policies and practices. From department heads and Presidential Innovation Fellows, to the FA.gov team and bureau information officers, hundreds of “data champions” are pushing for higher-quality data that is easy to curate and easier to use.

How can we as private citizens support more, higher-quality open data from the USG? Keep asking for and using more. There is an undeniably high demand within the USG for this information. However, as Dennis Vega emphasized in his remarks, external demand supports internal champions in a big way. If citizens and civil society can demonstrate an interest in, and use of, government information, it can become easier for champions to make internal inroads. 

After numerous studies on data use, citizen voice, and data ecosystems internationally, we cannot forget to apply those lessons here at home. Open data starts with individuals, and it’s all of our responsibilities to cultivate a thriving and transparent ecosystem.

Image from AidData's Twitter.

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