There are many group incentives for having more open, participatory, and collaborative work environments. In private business, powerful leaders can impose new information-sharing systems, with the primary group incentive being increased revenue. What’s the individual incentive for an individual in this situation? If there is one, it’s often some kind of profit-sharing, a chance for more rapid promotion, or similar.
Academic information-sharing needs different incentives, because professors don’t directly profit from research, and there’s generally nothing to be promoted to. Rapidly sharing raw experimental data with the world offers advantages to the community of medical researchers searching for disease genes. But there is a counterbalancing advantage to cheating and withholding data to make it proprietary to a certain laboratory and a small cabal of collaborators. What’s the incentive for an individual professor or laboratory director to share data? In this case, with genome sequencing and expression data for instance, the community decided that sharing would be a prerequisite for publication (the lifeblood of academia) – so everyone complies.
What about transparent, open sharing of government data? There are at least three parallel issues here: sharing within government, between government and contractors, and between government and the people. David Stephenson organized a thought-provoking discussion about group-level incentives for sharing government information at the recent Transparency Camp in Washington, D.C. But individual-level incentives were hardly discussed.
What’s the incentive for an individual government employee to make the effort to change the status quo, if they’re not currently a “transparent government cheerleader“? I don’t have an answer to this question. But finding that answer requires a fresh look at the human resources of the government – How are they recruited, trained, incentivized, compensated, and retained, and how does this influence their day-to-day work? People do not always do what’s best for the group.
Technical problems with open, transparent, and participatory government have recently been highlighted in the mainstream press. But from a holistic standpoint, this is far more than a technology problem.