National information policy redux

For some time now I’ve been arguing that we should do for information what we did for competition in the 1990s – adopt a national information policy in the image of national competition policy. National competition policy was a trawl through our economic institutions presuming that more competition was better than less and then requiring arrangements that restricted competition to be reviewed and then either justified or removed.  We also built institutions to entrench such an approach into policy making at all levels of government through COAG.

We could do the same with information.  We should presume that more is better than less, that open is better than closed and further that independence in the creation and dissemination of information is better than its creation and disemination by vested interests. Of course such an agenda would be large – as competition policy was.  And it would also be more complex than competition policy.  So while it sounds like the NCP it would be a larger, more diverse undertaking and would probably unfold over a longer period.

Perhaps one might think of Government 2.0 as the first cab off the rank as we move to developing the economic value of information assets in the possession of the government. But there are any number of other fronts. Improving information flows in financial markets.  We should move beyond regulation of mandatory disclosure – as important as that is – and start asking ourselves how we can assist the development of standards against which information is reported, the independence with which it is audited and the accuracy with which reputations are acquired.

The same goes for reputations in markets for important professional services, like medicine.  We’re starting to do it for schools.  And we already have the information to do much more in tertiary education.

Then there are the conflict of interest issues and issues of bias, deliberate or inadvertent. The way we gain information on the performance of drugs is incredibly inefficient because guess who we get to generate the information – the drug companies themselves. But similar problems arise in all softs of places. I was put in mind of these things by these articles on the ways in which forensic science is done in the legal system and ways information flows could be restructured to introduce checks for bias and conflicts of interest.

There’s one other similarity with competition policy.  The NCP was a formalisation of ideas that had been with us forever and which we were becoming more active on long before they became a conscious ‘national policy’.  Ditto National Information Policy.

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