In modern politics the parliament is a lot like a black box. Every fourth year, we vote in the parliamentary election and select 200 new (or the same old) faces to make decisions about matters national. The problem with this is that us voters, we really don’t know much about what is going on in there. Sure, the media covers some issues, but more often than not the reporting isn’t very good. Including just the outcome of a vote isn’t telling much about anything besides the result. And that is not enough.
If we consider what a good decision is like, it’s pretty clear that is has to be based on something. Sure, you can sometimes get it right by just guessing – but nobody would call that a good decision strategy. A good decision has to be based on evidence. Are politicians using evidence properly, then? At the moment, nobody knows. To really evaluate politicians, we need more than just their voting patterns. We need some inkling about why they chose the way they did. It’s not enough to say “down with cars!” One should at least provide some justification, like “down with cars, because they hurt our health!” In an even better situation, we would see deeply researched judgments, really explaining how and why the policy voted for is the best way to reach an important goal. For example, someone might say “down with cars, because they hurt health so much that we could their impact on wellbeing is negative”.
Unfortunately, we hardly ever see this kind of reasoning. That’s why I think we need more open decision making, especially regarding the analyses and data that our political decision makers use. If we have more open data, we also have more minds looking at that and evaluating, whether the inferences politicians have made on that are really correct. Publicizing at least a substantial minority of the data used in the political decision making process would invite all kinds of NGOs, interest groups and analysts to really comb through the data. At the moment, none of that is happening regularly. When we do have access to data, it’s often related to decisions that have already been made! For obvious reasons, that’s really not very helpful. I think it’s fair to say that there’s room for improvement, and for moving more towards open, evidence-based policy generation.
The point here is not that politicians would be especially stupid or untrustworthy. No, the point is that they’re people just like you and me (albeit with more support staff). And just like you and me, they make mistakes. That’s why you sanity check your recommendations with your boss before sending them to the client. That’s why I get feedback from my supervisor before I send my paper to a journal. We’re fallible human beings, all of us. But having more people looking at the same things, we can average out many biases and avoid obvious mistakes. To do that in politics, we need more open data.