Creating an Open Data Strategy That Just Works

The open data movement has unearthed troves of government resources that were previously locked away in disparate systems, databases and even filing cabinets. There was a mad dash among agencies to open up as much data as possible to the public and to hopefully spark economic development for new startups that could create nifty apps using that data.

But there’s a difference between opening data and having a long-term vision for what your organization plans to do with its data, Chris Thomas, Director of Government Markets at Esri said during GovLoop’s State and Local Virtual Innovators Summit.

The key is having an open data strategy. Initially, calls for greater transparency and accountability across government drove the massive release of datasets, but oftentimes agencies didn’t have a larger plan for what their open data plans could accomplish and how. And it’s not just about opening data but also ensuring people have access to it and context around the data.

“The number one thing is not to only look at data opened to the public,” Thomas said. Agencies must consider other groups who also need access to that information. For a number of cities, the biggest users of open data portals are government employees across various departments.

“The open data movement forgot the data was just as important to internal operations,” he said. “But [agencies] forgot concepts of breaking down silos in organizations.”

Another aspect of open data to consider is how it supports the development of smart communities. This next-generation trend is all about altering the way that government delivers services and how data can be used to better manage communities and make them safer, more sustainable, livable, healthy and prosperous for all residents.

Agencies should consider what tools they can provide that make it easier for the public and internal employees to make sense of the data and draw conclusions. Another issue to consider: Does your agency have a way of communicating what the data is telling them through story maps? That’s a feature that cities such as Philadelphia and Johns Creek, Georgia have teamed with Esri to provide.

For example, Philadelphia used story maps to show where police officers are stationed across the city, where crime is occurring and where arrests are made. Rather than just throwing these datasets onto a portal in isolation, the city provided citizens with the tools to analyze the data for themselves and draw conclusions.

The city of Johns Creek partnered with the navigation app company Waze to crowdsource its traffic data and feed that information to residents via a commercial app. Other cities, including Sacramento, are rolling out similar efforts and extending government data from Esri’s ArcGIS Platform to Waze, Thomas said.

He sees the next phase of open data as the ability for agencies to combine datasets with analysis tools. But that data must be readily available. When it is, the results are powerful.

Thomas shared work from an Esri project that involved using open data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and combining it with law enforcement data, including arrest records, as well as health data to paint a clear picture of the opioid epidemic across counties and states. Governments could then use that information to take action.

“The pressure to deliver data-driven decisions is impacting organizations,” Thomas said. “Knowing where data is located is one thing, but having access is another.”

To view the slides from today’s presentation, click here.


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Dovell Bonnett

The sharing of data is a nice concept, BUT PLEASE, make security one of the main pillars to your plan, and include it in the very beginning. Cybersecurity is not a joke nor a minor annoyance. Think about what an advisory might do with that information to fraud and manipulate our government.