3 Kinds of Government Open Data: Ready, Easy and Hard

As I have been leading the formation of a Code for America Brigade in Durham, NC, over the last few weeks, it’s been eye-opening to learn about the process as a citizen when it comes to reaching out to local government in order to liberate datasets for use by developers and access by citizens.

Our coalition met again last night and I think we’re getting close to having the county release some datasets in the not-too-distant-future. While it might be oversimplified (and there might be others who have covered this ground already), for me it’s been helpful to identify the spectrum of data that could be released to the public. Here’s how I might categorize it:

1) Publicly Available Right Now (But Scattered / Hard to Find) Datasets: There is likely some data that’s already posted on the web. The problem in most cases is that it is located in multiple places. I’ve done some searching for Durham City and County data, but it’s been more difficult than I imagined to identify that information based on a quick Google search. As a result, we believe the low-hanging fruit with the county is to have them point us to all the datasets that they know are already out there on the web so that we can consolidate them in a single data catalogue.

2) Easy to Get Datasets (That We Can Work Together to Release): The next tier of data includes non-political information that might not be public right now, but would be relatively easy for government to prepare and release. Based on preliminary conversations, here’s a short list:

  • Animal Shelters
  • Crime
  • Food / Restaurant Scores
  • GIS
  • Parks / Recreation Events and Locations
  • Public Art
  • Transit / Transportation

I’m sure there are many more “easy-to-get” datasets and I’d welcome your ideas in the comments. I say “work together to release” because, in most cases, citizens need to make an independent request for the data in order for it to be released. Rather than push for the “harder to get” datasets that would create political complications or just add onerous work to government employee’s already crowded plates, we can get a sense from our public sector partners which datasets they’d be comfortable releasing more quickly, then proceed with submitting a public information request.

3) Harder-to-Get (But Not Impossible to Release) Datasets: My understanding is that these datasets are more political in nature or include personally identifiable information that make it more difficult to “scrub” and protect citizens. In these instances, it might take a bit longer to get them ready for public availability and / or stakeholders like commissioners or council members can’t stomach their release for fear of broader public backlash – even though they might be the most helpful when it comes to mapping, visualization and leveraging them to solve a community’s toughest challenges. Some of these datasets include:

  • Business-Related
  • Financial
  • Legal
  • Public Health
  • Schools

Ultimately, the best option for a government entity would be to release portions of this data to see what the community and developers might do with it – or respond to a specific request when a clear business case is made for its release.

So that’s what I’ve learned about open data in just a few weeks – and as I’ve always done over the years, I wanted to share what I’ve discovered in case it’s helpful for someone else striving to walk down a similar path. Of course, I like to learn more from your experience as either government professionals involved with releasing datasets and / or citizens engaged in the open data movement who are trying to request it:

  • Have I put the individual datasets in the right buckets and/or what else should I have included?
  • How else might you categorize the types of data that government could release?
  • What are the low-hanging fruit when it comes to data liberation?

By the way, if you are looking for additional information on open data, I’ve learned a lot from the Open Knowledge Foundation.

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David B. Grinberg

Interesting article from NYT about new field of “work-force science” and how Big Data is affecting the HR industry:

Big Data, Trying to Bulid Better Workers

“These are some of the startling findings of an emerging field called work-force science. It adds a large dose of data analysis, a k a Big Data, to the field of human resource management, which has traditionally relied heavily on gut feel and established practice to guide hiring, promotion and career planning. Work-force science, in short, is what happens when Big Data meets H.R.”

Andrew Krzmarzick

Hi Kerry – Thanks for the input based on your direct experience. That’s what I am anticipating as the biggest hurdle. They are definitely willing to share…but, as you said, it will take a champion at the highest level to ensure that our early efforts gain and sustain momentum.

Ron Pringle

Great post Andrew, and very relevant to my recent experience at the Boulder Civic Hackathon during the National Day of Civic Hacking. I’ll post my thoughts on that experience shortly but I think you’ll find it similar to this post.

Jack K

Our interest was considerably less in open government data hen again more the range of open data, from government,individual citizens and business. We believed we would run an exercise over the may of 2012, inviting various companies to come and debate open data.

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