Submit Comment

show all (0)
There are no comments. Click the text to your left to make a new comment.
1 0

Relationships between information and political decision making have received extensive treatment in the literature, particularly relating to greater citizen access to political information brought about by the rise of the Internet (Lievrouw 1994; Castells 2009; Kamarck et al. 2002; Hague Loader 1999). The opening of government data can have two impacts on the availability of politically relevant information. Firstly, it can lead to the release of the data underlying formerly available information, removing the role of government as sole interpreter of the data. Secondly, it can lead to new data being released, covering topics where neither data nor information were available before. The idea that “the informed citizen is the empowered citizen” (HMG 2009) is intuitively plausible, and Dahl emphasizes the importance of removing information inequalities between citizens, and between citizen and state in order to realize greater democratic governance (Dahl 2000). However, questions have been raised about both rationalist assumptions that more information in general improves the quality of democratic participation (Dervin 1994), and claims that the Internet necessarily leads to a democratization of the information environment (Hindman 2009).

2 0

Bimber (2003), drawing on Downs’ ‘economic theory of democracy’ (1957a; 1957b) argues that a rational-choice model of citizen interaction with political information can explain how increased ‘information abundance’ affects levels of active democratic participation. Rational individuals seek to reduce their political uncertainty (e.g. over who to vote for) and seek new information until its marginal return equals the marginal cost of obtaining it. However, given it is generally impossible to know, a priori, the return on information, individuals establish “a few gatherers and transmitters of information and mold them into a personal information-acquisition system” (Downs in Bimber 2003 p.202). Bimber’s ‘fourth information revolution’ involves the shift from that network consisting primarily in limited and partisan mainstream media, to a situation in which individuals have greater capacity to craft their own digital information environments. With the introduction of OGD, the possibilities for individuals to craft highly personalized information environments around themselves increases. For Sunstein (2007) this creates ‘echo-chambers’ and is profoundly undemocratic: harmful to unified public spheres. But Bimber argues it can bring moderate numbers of new actors into democratic life, creating a ‘revolution in the middle’ (Bimber 2003, p.205) between elites and masses. Bimber notes that, if the purpose of information acquisition is reducing uncertainty, this has greatest benefit for “those with the highest uncertainty and who also exhibit a strong preference over outcomes, all else being equal” (2003, p.205, my emphasis). If Bimber’s theory holds, then we might anticipate increasing availability of OGD to support data uses which extend this revolution in the middle and support new individuals with strong political preference, but high uncertainty, to engage more in political life.

3 0

Alongside equipping citizens for electoral decision-making, and with information required to lobby on issues, it is often argued that OGD can increase the ‘transparency and accountability’ of politicians and officials. However, Heald (2006) notes that although “at very low levels of transparency, more transparency is likely to be beneficial”, when transparency is already high then trade-offs can restrict the value of further increases. High levels of transparency can create perverse incentives for policy makers (Prat 2006) and may in practice restrict the scope for deliberative forms of democratic decision-making (Stasavage 2006). Fung and Weil (2010) also note that excessive governmental transparency can harm the effectiveness of a government and dis-empower the state vis-à-vis opaque corporate interests, specifically, it might be added, media corporations (Castells 2009). However, Fung and Weil do not take this as reason for restricting transparency, but rather argue for a broader ‘open society’ movement, where the state is not the only body pushed to increase its transparency and accountability.