Take 5 Minutes and Answer – What’s the State of Open Data?

Got 5 Minutes? Answer What’s the State of Open Data?

I’ve always been a fan of open data. I love the idea of how releasing data can lead to innovation like Weather Channel, GPS, or fun food pyramid games.

The fine folks at Socrata have been leading the push on Open Data and power a
number of the city, state, and federal sites. Heck, they even power data.govloop.com (cool data ranging from list of social media policies to demographic data on govies)

Today, Socrata, Sunlight Foundation, Personal Democracy Forum, GovLoop and Code for America team up to benchmark the state of Open Data. Socrata together with leading public advocacy organizations, is surveying government employees about the progress of Open Data initiatives in federal, state and local governments. Socrata is a leading technology enabler of Open Data Services for government.

Are you a government employee? If so, help assess the state of Open Data in government and shape its future by taking a survey at:

. Now is your chance to let your voice be heard.

This survey to Government orgs, follows a survey to 1,000 mainstream citizens and is part of the Open Government Data Benchmark Study. This broad market study to benchmark the state of Open Data in government is the first time that government stakeholders, mainstream citizens and civic application developers are all invited to share their perspectives on the nascent Open Data movement in order to gauge changing attitudes and expectations towards Open Data, both within government and among its data-consuming constituents.

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Andreas D. Addison

Thanks for the Open Govt post. This has been an active discussion in Richmond. Have you seen the work that DC has done? Really cool, but almost a little TOO open. Open data needs to have some kind of explanation for the public to know what they are looking at. Being open for the sake of transparency has its inherent risks, but I think it is a huge step in the right direction to create a higher public perception of quality.

Ryan Wold


I agree that data needs to have an explanation, documentation, and perhaps even examples of use in order to be most useful. Yet, each of those items are tasks that must be completed by staff. And, given limited resources, especially for local public agencies, sometimes that bar is set too high. Orgs like Socrata and Tableau do well to ‘bridge the gap’ between raw data and contextualized, more useful data.

This is related to the notion of government as a wholesaler vs retailer of data.

So, while I agree more can be done to contextualize and make the data more accessible; whether or not that is government’s responsibility as well as if it is the best use of limited resources is debatable. Each data transformation that government performs is biased by definition – whether it be a roll-up summary, a program report, or even a standard CAFR or Budget. Transaction-level detail is the highest resolution data available, and users can abstract out from there.

In terms of first steps, I think setting the bar as low as possible is helpful. More specifically, asking public agencies to publish data at the lowest level possible, addressing security concerns, and providing file format documentation as well as a paragraph or two of narrative about how the data is used within the organization itself. If we demand contextualized data, or internal systems to develop user-facing portals, or government made “apps”, the public is just placing another burden on an already taxed system.

Herb Lainchbury

I think governments underestimate the levels of knowledge and expertise that exists outside the firewall. In my opinion the most important thing for governments to do is to to release the data in a way that it can be used. That means free of mechanisms of control, legal or otherwise, in non-proprietary machine readable formats and easily downloadable. I would much rather the scarce government resources be spent on getting the data released in as raw, unprocessed form as possible and as open a form as possible – than creating yet another one-off interface.

Once released, citizens can and do work with data to create value by improving the data, creating apps, mashups and visualizations etc.. In BC, citizens have started to form grass roots communities such as OpenDataBC and datadotgc.ca that are very supportive of government and are keen to help out with some of the work that is required to realize the full potential. Many of the members of these groups happen to be experts in the data that have worked with it in research or educational capacities, or are retired former public servants that are passionate about their province/state and want to contribute to making the world work better.

In many cases, the expertise is available outside of government. The only part citizens can’t do on their own is release the data.