The following article is available in full text with the kind permission of the Association of Public Data Users.

Jacobs, Jim, Karrie Peterson. "The Technical is Political" Of Significance... 3(1) 2001, p.25-35. Association of Public Data Users. (Full text PDF file)

In the realm of government information, technical decisions about data format, access software and public distribution methods are inherently political decisions. They affect what kind of data can be accessed, how, by whom, and for how long into the future it will be available. To evaluate and respond appropriately to policy changes by government producers of data, technical issues must also be looked at in the light of social values shared by the data-using community.

How does a newly decked-out data product fare with regard to open access? Privacy of individuals? Documentation that allows the data to be correctly cited, tested for reliability, re-used in the future? Social and political concerns also come into play when the flexibility offered by distributing raw data is balanced against locking the data into a "user-friendly" software, and when products traditionally produced by the federal government are privatized.

As private industry pushes harder for information to become a commodity - something that can be sold for profit - it is important for data users to push back with a strong philosophy of information as a social good, and to evaluate data products and access in light of their value to society, rather than on strictly narrow technical grounds.

About Of Significance...

Of Significance... is a compendium of topical articles published semi-annually by the Association of Public Data Users. APDU members receive Of Significance... as a benefit of membership.

About The Association of Public Data Users

The Association of Public Data Users is a national network that links users, producers and disseminators of government statistical data. Members share a vital concern about the collection, dissemination, preservation, and interpretation of public data.

The association is committed to helping users identify public data that meet their needs and apply those data in cost-effective and appropriate ways, establishing effective two-way communication between data producers and users, and bringing the perspectives and concerns of public data users to bear on important issues of government information and statistical policy.