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.

Corporations are also taking advantage of open data. Zillow is powered in part by freely available open government data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, and the Census Bureau. It is helping families make informed decisions about buying a home and where to raise a family.

Overcoming technical hurdles to making data open
What makes many of these projects successful is the availability of open data APIs. Agencies are creating open data APIs to give developers access to their data, but in many cases they have not created a platform or portal providing access to their APIs and data.

Therein lies a significant challenge -- one the White House is hoping to address with technical guidance to help agencies understand how to make more data accessible to the public in machine-readable formats.

To make data open and available to the public, agencies need to create and maintain an enterprise data inventory and a public data listing. However, agencies must keep in mind that several open data initiatives involve personally identifiable information, which must be removed to accommodate the security and privacy of citizens before it is made available.

The last and final objective outlined within the Obama administration's open data guidance is to clarify roles and responsibilities for promoting efficient and effective data release. This goal addresses perhaps one of the most significant challenges agencies will face as they embark on their open data initiatives: ensuring privacy.

Agencies must create "access level" categories that assign information access rules and algorithms based on decisions already made within an agency about whether data assets can be made public. They should place stricter guidelines around the label of "public" and how that translates to what types of information can be made public. Data assets within an open data initiative can be released to the public only after a full analysis of privacy, confidentiality, and security.

The public deserves open data
Ultimately, the benefits of open data outweigh the challenges. By putting the tools in the hands of the public to search, correlate, and visualize data, governments can make vast stores of previously unavailable data accessible, usable, and valuable to those who deserve to have access to it.

A government is held accountable to its citizens. Open data is the key to improving relationships between government and its constituents.

Bethann Pepoli is responsible for developing state and local government and K-12 education business for Splunk. She previously served as the deputy CIO at the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Moving email to the cloud has lowered IT costs and improved efficiency. Find out what federal agencies can learn from early adopters. Also in the The Great Email Migration issue of InformationWeek Government: Lessons from a successful government data site (free registration required).

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User Rank: Apprentice
1/8/2014 | 4:13:16 PM
Open data initiatives improve government
Fantastic post.

Open data initiatives are a powerful component of a constituent-centric framework that, together with frictionless communication tools like social media, provide government the ability to listen (to constituents, social media and data) more effectively—and enhances the public sector's ability to respond by driving operational efficiencies.  
Joel Gurin
Joel Gurin,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/8/2014 | 12:59:34 PM
Social media can help improve city services
Great post, and great point about how city and state governments can learn from social media. In addition to helping prevent terrorism, analyzing social media can help improve city services. That's how Washington, DC is now using social media and the technique of sentiment analysis. Read more at, post, "Can Open Data Improve the DMV?"

User Rank: Apprentice
1/8/2014 | 11:10:26 AM
Re: Open Data Successes
Our company, APPCityLife, has worked with civic organizations in New Mexico to not only launch open data initiatives but make sure those initiatives save the organization money. The ABQ RIDE mobile app was part of an initiative that save the city of Albuquerque over $100,000 alone over a 12-month span because of new, less expensive user behaviors from the community. We've also launched a self-serve mobile coupon engine to help stimulate local shopping through small businesses serving up coupons to locals through civic apps built on top of open data. Open data can be excellent for citizens because of more transparency, but it can also make a lot of sense financially for everyone involved.
User Rank: Author
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.
User Rank: Apprentice
1/7/2014 | 10:13:38 AM
Marketing Goldmine
I work in marketing and if you haver any clients in the property, law or finance industries then this data is an absolute goldmine and when properly compiled makes great fodder for infographics and other popular outreach media.
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