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Data Transparency in Action: New York Opens Up

Have you ever wondered how many traffic tickets New York hands out every year? Or how many health outbreaks affect the Empire State? Now, with Open NY, the state’s transparency and openness initiative, you can. Governor Andrew Cuomo initiated Open NY in 2013 to create “unprecedented transparency across all levels of government.”

Now, about two years into the program, the state is trying to take Open NY to the next level and they’ve brought in the Center for Technology in Government Research Center at the University at Albany to help. The Center launched 20 years ago with the goal of working directly with government practitioners to solve the practical problems of information management.

Theresa Pardo, Director, Center for Technology and Government and the Policy Advisor for Open NY, told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that New York’s executive order 95 lays out a strong structure and set of expectations for the state’s openness initiatives.

One of the goals of Open NY is to change the way government interacts with its citizens. “Open NY is a new approach to engaging citizens,” said Pardo. “We are able to look at what is working and what isn’t. We are seeing states, localities, countries, really wrestling with the deep infrastructure changes that are necessary to create sustainable and impactful programs. Getting at things like metadata, so that data can be understood, is the key to success.”

Open NY was not the first openness initiative for the state. “We did our first project in 1997,” said Pardo. “We helped the state of New York and then others think about what we called electronic records access programs. Essentially they’re open data programs, and we worked with the National Archives and Records Administration to produce a tool that helped organizations think through the design of those programs. Who are the users, who are the, what are the uses that they might make of the data, and not to control those uses?”

Pardo also discussed her list of things to consider when releasing a dataset:

  • Who are the stakeholders?
  • What are the likely uses that different stakeholders might make of the data?
  • What are the capabilities each of these stakeholder groups have?
  • How can the government fill-in the gap between what’s necessary and what’s available in that stakeholder group so that the stakeholder group maximizes the likelihood that they can actually use the data in some significant way?

“We’re seeing convergences of technologies and software tools that really are game changers like big data, cloud, and open data,” said Pardo. “But ultimately we still have to pay attention to some of the basic questions of context of use, right, and understanding to what extent a dataset that is now more easily available through all of the emerging technologies.”

However, many open government advocates say we often don’t know what data is incomplete because we don’t release it.

“There’s no question that there’s value in having access to the data. The question is, when there are choices that have to be made inside of government about where to focus release efforts, how do those decisions best get made?” said Pardo. “I think that’s kind of what’s going on here in the Open NY program. The program’s bringing in the perspectives that can help answer this question how can we sharpen the agenda of Open NY to make sure that we have the value that’s possible. “

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