Hack, Mash & Peer: Crowdsourcing Government Transparency from the Mercatus Center looks like a reasonable exhortation for the U.S. jurisdiction government to publish data in open formats so that government activities may be more easily scrutinized. The paper’s first paragraph:
The federal government makes an overwhelming amount of data publicly available each year. Laws ranging from the Administrative Procedure Act to the Paperwork Reduction Act require these disclosures in the name of transparency and accountability. However, the data are often only nominally publicly available. First, this is the case because it is not available online or even in electronic format. Second, the data that can be found online is often not available in an easily accessible or searchable format. If government information was made public online and in standard open formats, the online masses could be leveraged to help ensure the transparency and accountability that is the reason for making information public in the first place.
That’s great. But if peer produced (a more general and less inflammatory term than crowdsourced; I recommend it) scrutiny of government is great, why not of think tanks? Let’s rewrite that paragraph:
Think tanks produce an overwhelming number of analyses and policy recommendations each year. It is in the interest of the public and the think thanks that these recommendations be of high quality. However, the the data and methodology used to produce these positions are often not publicly available. First, this is the case because the data is not available online or even in electronic format. Second, the analysis that can be found online is often not available in an easily accessible or searchable format. Third, nearly everything published by think tanks is copyrighted. If think tank data and analysis was made public online in standard open formats and under open licenses, the online masses could be leveraged to help ensure the quality and public benefit of the policy recommendations that are the think tanks’ reason for existing in the first place.
Think tanks should lead by example, and improve their product to boot. Note the third point above: unlike U.S. government produced works, the output of think tanks (and everyone else) is restricted by copyright. So think tanks need to take an extra step to ensure openness.
(Actually think tanks only need to lead in their domain of political economy — by following the trails blazed by the Open Access movement in scientific publishing.)
This is only the beginning of leading by example for think tanks. When has a pro-market think tank ever subjected its policy recommendations to market evaluation?