Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Open Data Charter - Why it's a Big Step for Open Data

This week, the G8, an assembly of world leaders representing eight of the eleven largest national economies in the world, collectively representing over 50% of global GDP, strengthened their commitment to Open Data initiatives by signing the Open Data Charter. This Charter laid down five principles to which any open data program should adhere. These principles extol the benefits of Open Data while solidifying the intent of these countries to grow and maintain successful open data portals. They begin with the assertion that by 2015, all data should be open by default. The commitment of the G8 to these principles extends beyond Government and public institutions to any organization, public or private, with data sets. If the G8 countries stick to the Open Data Charter, this could increase accountability and therefore the trust between governments and their constituents. Of course, this trust will only grow if the municipality in question operates with the maximum amount of fairness and efficiency. 

How can Open Data increase governmental accountability and trust?  An open data policy will allow taxpayers to see where their money is being spent.   In Finland, one man developed and published a “Tax Tree” to display this information. The British "Where Does My Money Go?" shows the distribution of their tax money.  An open data policy would increase efficiency in the government as well. In the case of the Dutch Ministry of Education, once they released their data, inquiries from the public decreased. This allowed for less labor time for answering those inquiries and frees up those resources to focus on other problem areas. A woman in Denmark re-used data from Denmark's Open Data portal and created a site displaying the location of all of the public toilets in Denmark. In this case, Denmark's Open Data policy increased the government's capability to deliver services by enabling citizens to solve problems themselves.

In order for this Charter to be effective and ramp up the spread of Open Data, the G8 countries must prove themselves strong leaders for each of the five principles named in the Charter. They'll need to have a strong commitment to releasing quality, non-personal data to the public and proving that it's useful to constituents. If the countries themselves can maintain this on the federal level, it will encourage implementation of open data policies on the regional and local levels. These programs will become more widespread as an increasing number of citizens notice the benefits of having a government that is working to become more efficient and accountable to its constituents. This strong commitment, if the G8 can diligently execute it, will increase efficiency, capability and even trust of the governments of these countries.

- Katie Berryann

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

What is Open Data and Why is it Important?

At the beginning of this year, President Obama signed an executive order, requiring federal government agencies to have their data available to the public and machine-readable. Without commenting on the effectiveness of this order, or the percentage of agencies who follow, we should still note that for the United States, this was a big step towards bringing open data policies further forward into the public eye. There is still a long road ahead before Open Data is a household term, as well as much more to be accomplished at not only the federal level, but also the state, city and country government levels. Open Data Solutions is dedicated to establishing, cultivating and maintaining these government open data initiatives. Before the establishment of an open data portal, however, it is important to understand what Open Data really is and why it's important.  

What is Open Data? “Open Data” is a policy in which governments release their raw data in machine–readable format. This data is unbiased, with no previous analysis and has been collected using tax payer money. From here, government open data initiatives take this data and provide visualizations to make this data easily navigable and understood by the public. Visualizations can be in the form of spreadsheets or interactive maps or charts – however the data is best displayed. These government initiatives are driven by involvement of their communities. Citizens can request data sets, anything from crime records to environmental data to broadband speeds. This civic engagement is vital to the success of an open data portal. 

Open Data vs Open Government
Open Government and Open Data are similar but are not the same thing. Open Government is a policy which promotes "transparency" but instead of the raw, machine-readable data, Open Government data is released in pre-analyzed, proprietary formatting. While this is technically "transparency" of data, it doesn't allow for the data to be shared and used in any way but how it's released. Open Data has many more uses than Open Government data. 

The Many Uses of Open Data
Because Open Data is raw data, and more data sets can be requested, the possibilities are endless. The Open Data portals that are most effective use their data in ways with which citizens can easily interact. For instance, the City of Chicago lists all crimes from 2001 to present. Another successful portal, the City of Raleigh, shows all parking in Raleigh - public and private. This data, collected by the government with tax payers' money, is now available to the public in an easily understood format. Any dataset can be requested and with Open Data, citizens have the resources to be safer, more knowledgeable constituents. 

- Katie Berryann