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Title: Designing Software to Shape Open Government Policy
Authors: Yu, Harlan
Advisors: Felten, Edward W
Contributors: Computer Science Department
Subjects: Computer science
Public policy
Issue Date: 2012
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Modern information technologies have transformed the meaning and promise of “open government.” The term originally stood for the ideas of government transparency and public accountability. But with the rise of the Internet, “open government” has grown to encompass a wide range of civic goals—greater public participation and increased government efficiency, among others—newly enhanced by the potential of digital technologies. Software now plays a key mediating role between governments and citizens, and the design of software can both inform and shape the effectiveness of open government policies. In this dissertation, we explore government’s role as an information provider in the digital age. Rather than struggling, as it currently does, to keep up with the rapid pace of technological change, we contend that government should focus on enabling others to innovate, by publishing its data in bulk, machine-readable formats. This approach allows citizens to easily adapt government data for any desirable purpose using the latest technological tools, rather than relying on a single government-provided interface. Despite its benefits, government may refuse to publish adaptable data for a variety of reasons. Such is the case with the U.S. Courts, which maintain a harmful paywall policy that limits access to electronic court records. We describe our pursuit to change the Courts’ policies through the development of the RECAP browser extension, which we built to liberate records from the Courts’ online access system. We analyze how RECAP’s core design features contributed to its widespread adoption, and impacted the policy discourse. But even where government data are readily available, they may still be difficult to comprehend. We study how the U.S. Congress’ age-old legislative process hinders the development of automated software with immense efficiency and transparency benefits. We outline the steps that Congress would need to take to modernize its process and embrace these improvements. Finally, we discuss how recent “open government” policies have blurred the distinction between political and technological openness. We propose a clearer framing that separates the politics of public accountability from the technologies of open data, which we hope will make both ideals easier to achieve.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Computer Science

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