I am almost never comfortable discussing politics. The way we make decisions on our common future sometimes seems completely off the mark: we talk about the leaders’ personalities rather than about their policies. The policies themselves appear very different according to who is proposing them: “our” budget cuts are a wise measure to curb wasteful expenditure, whereas those of our adversaries are an indiscriminate slashing of essential services. The whole thing is way too emotional, because voting according to guts is at risk of bringing about very bad things (if you are interested in this, you might want to read Bryan Caplan’s The myth of the rational voter). Last year for example, we had a string of referenda in Italy, on highly relevant issues like nuclear energy and water management. My countrymen talked surprisingly little of, well, nuclear energy and water management. You would come across statements like “I don’t trust this country with nuclear” (written, presumably, by somebody who entrusts a state hospital with her life, or a state school with educating her children) or “give our future back to our children” (meaning use more nuclear because it produces fewer greenhouse gases or using more coal and oil because they are not radioactive?).
I think (hope) that open data could help to realign these discussion. Not only data point to facts, but discussing on their interpretation leads to ever more sophisticated analysis. “Look here! Under the Grays’ rule GDP grew much faster than the measly 0.3% a year of the Colored administration!” “Yes, but consider that the years of the Colored government coincided with a world recession. The right indicator is the difference in growth rate between our country and the world average, and that shows clearly how wise the policies of the Coloreds’ government were.” To win an argument like this, the contenders need to delve deep into the datum. What is it really measuring? How to interpret it?
For this to happen, clearly, data are essential, but not sufficient: you also need a part of the public opinion that knows how to use them to build stories on our living together, and contribute them to public debate. If this is not there data can and will be used in incompetent or dishonest ways, wielded as weapons and end up reducing the quality and diversity of the debate itself. Because of this, I joined the open data movement and, within that movement, I am doing my best to bring about initiatives to boost the demand for data and data literacy. I make a case for this in the video below (Italian – 20 minutes).