Chris Taggart’s short talk on open data and the rewards of failure struck a particularly strong cord with me. The governments and businesses have lackadaisically been adopting new technologies and approaches to sharing “sensitive” information with the consumers. Nearly a year ago I was still hearing “no news is good news” from a company’s CEO. Thankfully, a lawyer and entrepreneur has spoken up on the issue at the first of FutureEverything festival.
The problem that surrounds the open data movement has to do with the exposure of a failure. But, in my opinion, failure is crying for a correct definition. Or maybe we need to listen to those who know better – like Thomas Edison, for instance. Someone asked him what it was like to fail hundreds of times at inventing electricity that would redefine the way we live our lives. His answer was: “I didn’t fail once. I am eliminating the ways that don’t work. Once I have eliminated them all, I will have found the one that works“.
Edison would fail if he’d stopped trying. The real failure occurs when you stop learning from your mistakes. And, by definition, various structures here and there across the globe fail not because they don’t do things correctly but because they don’t want to accept the fact that they are making mistakes. There is a global movement of presenting oneself as a Caesar’s wife who, as we know, is beyond suspicion.
The way of concealing a failure is very simple. You initiate a big project. It brings you publicity and power but it also helps to conceal the personal faults. Obviously, when you are involved in a small project the spotlight is on you and all your faux pas, however small. Last but not least, you can outsource everything which means minimising costs. It is no secret that outsourced work often costs less than an official involvement.
Is it really the way forward? As we have seen with the last year’s MPs expenses scandal, explosive truth conceals more danger than an open management of political affairs. Openness seems to be the most powerful preventative measure, but there is something better that open data brings to the table.
Making a failure public means, in simple terms, accepting responsibility. Whatever we may think doing so is the ultimate indication of leadership, and this may be one of the reasons why individuals and organisations alike may want to be open about problems they encounter on their way to success. However, this should not be a mere announcement of a problem – there should be a determined effort to fix it. Internet is all about accepting and fixing all sorts of problems, from connectivity to data sharing. The best part of taking responsibility for fixing the problem is that this will be the real achievement associated with you. “Can do” attitude is all about accepting the limitations and pushing the envelope.
As a result of this, Taggart argues, the terms of debate about open data need to be changed. For a start, we should be thinking and talking evolution, not revolution. Open data is already there, so the idea is that we keep exploring this area, rather than try to radically reinvent the wheel. Secondly, we need to be transparent about problems. Open data invites ideas and knowledge sharing, and this in turn encourages what Taggart calls “distributed innovation”. In this case data becomes open by default, so as to allow participating individuals and organisations to use the opportunities presented by data sharing. The important factor, however, is the encouragement of innovation and small projects. This is really the chance to help bring one’s creativity to the new level; to allow different viewpoints and expertise to mix in producing the solution to a problem.
Unfortunately, the fear culture is pervasive, and for a good reason. The question of privacy and potential misuse of open data rests on many people’s minds, and there is no denying that it can be a dangerous problem. However, as with failure, the solution lies in accepting the obvious. Yes, there is a danger of misusing the data that is currently kept private. But there is clearly the way to prevent this from happening. So, rather than dwelling on the hundreds of cases when open data was misused, why not find the way that will illuminate the way to share the data and to protect it at the same time?