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Archive for the ‘linked data’ Category

Opportunity:  Spending of government  money should have a purpose and that purpose should be for the benefit of someone whether directly or indirectly.  The benefit might for an employee to work better and that employee might be working to benefit a group of citizens. The administration wishes to create a more transparent, effective and innovative government as well as to reduce the federal deficit. In order to do this, the administration must identify opportunities for innovation which can increase efficiency as well as decrease spending and make the case to the American people that it is making more effective use of taxpayer funds.  I want to make the case here that linking spending data to benefits of that spending in ways which are detailed,  clear and relevant to large numbers of citizens is the best way to find innovations to create a more effective government as well as to make transparency have meaning and value for the average citizen.

Challenge:

  • Linking Spending to Benefits:  Federal spending is reported in ways which do not clearly connect it to the benefits that specific expenditures provide.  While certain dollar amounts may be reported as going toward ‘Defense’ that is not specific enough to understand whether a given expenditure is justifiable and doesn’t allow an expenditure of group expenditures to be compared to alternative solutions for the same specific benefit oriented goal.  Therefore we must find ways to better connect specific spending to specific benefits.
  • Benefits of expenditures must clear and relevant:  Benefits must be stated in ways which are relevant and understandable for a large number of citizens.  For example, a system which tracks resources in a government program is not relevant until it is connected to the benefits that program provides and to whom it provides those benefits.  Often times expenditures are reported as supportting a program, system or equipment but not clearly connected to an intermediary benefit it attempts to provide a person or to the outcome of the the program or equipment and its end beneficiaries.  What is relevant to the average citizen is not how systems support systems or programs support programs but how overall efforts affect people, in what way it affects those people, who those people are, and what is the cost of providing that benefit.    For instance in the case of a self-help kiosk at a federal office.  The relevant benefit is not how it supports the agency’s program but how many citizens does it serve, how frequently does it serve them, how well does it serve them and at what cost per citizen? 
  • Providing  Spending to Benefit visibiliy to a large audience will spur innovation.  Making the links between spending and outcome visible to a large audience is a critical step in identifying opportunities for innovation in government to increase government’s effectiveness.  Innovation comes from diverse people considering things in different ways (remember KIDFAD from Wisdom of the Crowds),  so making connections between spending and benefits broadly relevant and visible will provide the greatest opportunity for innovation in creating more effective means to achieve similar benefits.  Also innovation comes from novel approaches to address overal goals  so providing information on overall cost to an end benefit served to people provides the greatest opportunity to innovate other ways to provide the benefit.  If, for instance, you simply focused on the cost of gas for a truck to travel 1000 miles, rather than the benefit of transporting chairs on that truck, you might miss the opportunity to send it by train.   Of course if you focused on the goal of having chairs at  a location, you might notice that it might be cheaper to purchase them at the end destination rather than pack them up and transport them back and forth.
  • Meaningful Transparency.  Making the connection between benefits and spending in ways which the average citizen can understand and find relevant is required in order to achieve government transparency in a way in which transparency will have meaning for the average citizen.

Approach: Identify, Find and Link Disparate Data Sources which can clarify the benefits of Government Expenditures

              Datsets must be found which can connect government spending to both outcomes and benefits to people.  For instance, compete.com provides data on how many visitors a website receives.  Connecting the cost of a government website to the number of visitors it receives per year can give a cost per citizen served.  Therefore getting the free data provided by Compete.com and  linking it to the cost of a government website will provide more transparency and a clearly cost of the benefit provided.  This can then be compared to other ways of providing that same benefit of information delivery.   

Another example is connecting the expense of providing office furniture to a known number of employees in an agency can then make it clear, the cost of doing providing office support per employee which could be compared to private sector data.   

Connecting government expenditures to their benefits and making clear the cost per beneciary in relevant ways can become a starting point for encouraging innovation to make a more effective government as well as to give the idea of government transparency meaning and value to largest number of people. 

Case for Using the Resource Description Framework Or Linked Data Model:

While linking data can be done in many different ways,  I do want to give a plug for the linked data model in this instance, because in the long term, I believe it is the best way to connect government spending with the benefits of that spending. 

Of course connecting spending to benefits  is not always as simple as the examples I gave,  nor is the data easy to find and easy to connect.  In fact you may need to link multiple datasets in a chain to get the benefit information in a way which is relevant and broadly understandable.  The resource description framework or Linked Data model gives us a way to start to collect this kind of data in a distributed fashion without strict central control and does not even require it to be on the same server or system in order to be linkable.  This makes RDF or Linked Data an ideal candidate to complete the long term vision of linking complex federal spending data with its outcome and benefits in a way which can have meaning for the average American Citizen.