Open Data: Good For Citizens & Government - InformationWeek

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Government // Open Government
09:35 AM
Bethann Pepoli
Bethann Pepoli
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Open Data: Good For Citizens & Government

Freely accessible government data helps the public stay more engaged with their communities and keeps government more accountable.

Governments and citizens across the country and around the world are demonstrating the powerful benefits that can be created by making government data available and accessible to the public.

We see it in the form of increased fiancial transparency in states such as Massachusetts, Maine, and Alabama, which have launched Open Checkbook websites that let residents view how their tax dollars are being spent.

We're also seeing how public access to government information can empower citizens. For example, one citizen recently used Boston's 311 app to help save a possum's life. Additionally, we're seeing economic growth through private industry innovation and public administration support through new and improved election processes.

[Open data has the potential to unlock $3 trillion or more in economic value. Learn how at Open Government Data: Companies Cash In.]

Ultimately, open data is enabling citizens to become more engaged with their communities and more involved in holding their governments accountable.

Social data: treasure trove for citizen engagement
The integration of open government and social media data has created new opportunities for agencies to provide better services and engage more meaningfully with citizens. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the City of New York, and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority all have projects or plans to monitor social media outlets for threats against officials, complaints about service, or feedback on the overall experience with an agency.

During natural disasters, people often resort to social media to ask for help or report injuries. This creates a pool of data that can be useful in improving emergency response. Tapping into this, FEMA developed an application that analyzed Twitter activity to measure public sentiment on resources delivered to residents in New York and New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy.

Maine's government website gives citizens easy access to state spending details through its Open Checkbook portal.
Maine's government website gives citizens easy access to state spending details through its Open Checkbook portal.

Agencies are beginning to realize the value within social networks, which allow them to aggregate and process emergency requests via previously untapped communication channels. But the responsibility of leveraging social and open data to serve citizens doesn't lie solely with government agencies. The private industry also is getting involved, because of the financial and social benefits to individual entrepreneurs and companies alike.

The social economics of open data
Open government data provides an open invitation for entrepreneurs and companies to create tools that uncover otherwise unknown trends and use the data to improve services.

Hackathons are an increasingly popular way to bring together data junkies, coders, developers, and designers to find new ways to deliver citizen services. The City of New York's first hackathon influenced templates for the relaunch of It also paved the way for other hackathons, like the MTA App Quest, which asks developers to create mobile apps to ease commutes, and the NYC Big Apps Challenge, which encourages digital innovation.

At the federal level, leaders like federal CTO Todd Park, former CTO of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), have broadened this concept for government-wide applications. While at HHS, Park championed the 2012 Health Datapalooza, in which 1,600 entrepreneurs and 242 companies competed for a chance to present a healthcare innovation powered by open data from the government and other sources. He has led the way in making healthcare more effective and affordable, from medical diagnostics to insurance reimbursement to community health statistics.

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1/7/2014 | 10:54:15 AM
Open Data Successes
While these success stories are becoming more common place, thanks to groups like Code for America, it seems too few stories get the attention they deserve. We'd welcome any fresh examples from our readers.
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