Eaves.ca: Why StatCan is (or could be) Google

David Eaves is somebody you need to know and love as I do. He’s been doing some great work on public sector renewal, negotiation and how government can learn from open source software.

His recent post Why StatCan is (or could be) Google is fascinating and well worth a read. David’s thesis is that StatCan needs to give away the data for free while at the same time attracting a whole new generation of creative Gen Y geeks to build its relevance in the future.

First, distinguish and separate what you do: “Creating and organizing information about Canada” from what makes you valuable: making this information universally available to citizens.

Second, make yourself the centre of a data gathering, sharing and analyzing eco-system: There are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people out there who could do amazing things with StatCan’s data.

Eaves poses an amazing challenge to an institution that is, like many public service agencies, under pressure to act more like business, looking at new business models and additional revenue opportunities. This orientation isn’t bad in itself, but often public institutions learn all the wrong lessons from the private sector.  At the same time, their public good mandates are often well-suited to their being linchpins in the coming network economy. Look to Umair Haque’s work on “Edge Economy” for clues on what the emerging economy looks like.

Publicly funded content creation can create huge downstream innovation and public good possibilities in a world of long-tail and so-called “crowd-sourced” economics. But the management of many publicly funded institutions have been moving in the wrong direction – trying to capture, limit and monetize content instead of making it freely available to the public. Eaves’ piece on StatCan is an important shot across the bow of why this approach is counterproductive to its stated goals.