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Open Sesame – Utah Renovates Open Data Gates

Let me make one thing clear: Utah has been in the open data game for years. But now, with their new open data catalog, they are streamlining the process and making it easier for users to find the right data sets.

David Fletcher, Chief Technology Officer at the Utah Department of Technology Services, told me during GovLoop’s State and Local Spotlight Interview that the data portal provides better access to Utah state data from a single point of entry.

The Open Data Catalog was developed in response to legislation passed in the 2014 General Session Legislative session of the Utah Legislature, which requires the creation of a public information Web site in consultation with the Utah Transparency Board. The catalog is a central point for viewing records from state agencies. Users can download data into several different formats, making it easy to view and analyze all data.

Utah worked with Socrata to put together the catalog that is already home to more than 9,000 data sets. “That number is increasing every day. The portal has an API that’s available so you can connect directly to the data either for developing applications on your own or to connect to live data from a resource like Excel,” said Fletcher. “The catalog also provides the capability to do your own charts and maps. We’ll be working with cities, counties, and other local government entities to provide more data.”

The catalog also provides a consistent toolset and interface. “For example, people were putting up data in formats that weren’t usable. A PDF is just static data and it’s hard to reuse it,” said Fletcher. “More and more in today’s world, people want to be able to use data that’s dynamic, easy to access and updated regularly. The tools we have in the new portal enable us to do that.”

One of the reasons for the push for more open data sets is because of the emergence of mobile.”People are creating mobile apps. We have a whole economy built around mobile. And some of those apps use state data,” said Fletcher. “For example, apps for tourism that are developed by private sector entities may use our data on state parks and campgrounds. Researchers who are doing studies on emissions want to be able to access the data from our air quality division.”

And the response to the site has been tremendous. “We’ve already had several hundred tweets from different people that are excited about the way we’re making it available. And then you just see in the utilization of it. We do have tools in there that enable people to recommend datasets that they might be interested in. We’re also looking for that kind a feedback,” said Fletcher.

In addition to opendata.utah.gov, there is an additional portal for making GRAMA requests at openrecords.utah.gov. The portal includes download options for receiving records, information about state agency hierarchy, and contact information for records officers. The portal will be expanded in the future to include links to many public records which are already posted online, and allow for the upload and posting of additional public records.

“We are going to be busy in the next few years, to say the least,” said Fletcher. “One of the big things we want to be able to do is integrate data into live kinds of services that improve the quality of life.”

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