At the end of every significant relationship in our lives comes a period of reflection. People tend to run over the milestone moments of a relationship and either gnash one’s teeth over them or spend a few moments in fond recollection. For the federal government, we are in the middle of a special time that occurs every four years – the nostalgic period where we look back over a President’s administration and either cheer or bemoan the successes of that time.
One of the hallmarks of the Obama legacy in my opinion will be his support of the use of open data in government. A commitment to open data has been the driving force behind so many of the Obama Administration’s priority initiatives: Data Driven Justice; Precision Medicine; a National Transit Map and the Opportunity Project to name just a few.
When it comes to the idea of open data in government, I am one of its greatest fans. Here are a few of my top reasons open data is the best thing to happen to the government since federal holidays:
- Data Becomes Actionable: The true value of opening government data lies in how agencies and the public put it to use. If open data isn’t actionable, then government is just checking a box. Providing access to data is an important first step, but if information can’t be shared in a way that makes sense and is understood by the public, it isn’t doing anyone any favors. The myriad of apps and websites that have sprung up based upon data that is readily available, and for free, is very encouraging, and I hope it continues to grow.
- Brings issues to light: For data to be useable, it must bring issues into context, engage the public, and improve transparency. By accessing information, people can compare different factors and see relationships within the data. It’s powerful when people can compare school districts, crime statistics or employment ratings in different areas. Let’s keep sharing data so everyone has the capability to take responsibility for their own decisions.
- Empowers the public: When the government shares information that was used in any decision-making process, everyone wins. Our leaders’ intentions can be more clearly conveyed and the public is empowered to create more informed and constructive responses. Open data initiatives have done this. They have brought a wealth of public data to the web, which allows both the government and the people it serves to share a common vision.
- It’s a Two Way Street: Now batten down your hatches, guys, ‘cause this is where it gets really exciting. While the original thought behind opening this government-collected data was more along the lines of transparency in government, something amazing happened: citizens realized that not only was there data they wanted to receive from their government, but there is data they want to share with their government. Now, crowdsourcing apps are gaining traction in government, with users sharing information they collect directly with their government – city, state, and Federal. The level of engagement this enables is truly amazing.
- We’ve Only Just Begun: One of the most exciting parts of this open data journey is that we are only at the beginning. Once you begin applying open data to a set of problems/issues/situations, there is a chain reaction where one can see the value proposition in applying those same data sets to other situations. To be honest, if you had told me eight years ago that we would be experiencing this amount of citizen engagement and two-way data communication in the Federal government, I would not have believed you. When it comes to open data – the best is yet to come.
I know that U.S. CTO, Megan Smith, has indicated her belief that technology will continue be a mainstay of Federal priorities regardless of who is ultimately successful on November 8. I, for one, am hoping we as a government will soon be reflecting with excitement on the open data successes of our next President’s First 100 Days!