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Open Data Trends: Cities, FOIA, and Open Science

0 Comments07 March 2014

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February was a big month for Open Data in the U.S. and around the world. We’re seeing a number of trends developing and building Open Data’s impact. Here are some of the biggest from the last few weeks.

An international city-based movement. February 22 was international Open Data Day, a loosely organized but highly effective collection of Open Data events. Launched by David Eaves and others a few years ago, Open Data Day has grown to include hackathons and other events in more than a hundred cities around the world. Some have compared it to Earth Day in the 1970s – a movement-defining event with wide impact – and it’s been the occasion for celebrating the emerging power of Open Data.

This international movement is growing on a number of levels. We’re seeing national governments around the world adopting new Open Data policies and programs on almost a weekly basis (France is an interesting example). The Open Data Institute in London is also coordinating more and more Open Data NGOs with national scope, like the new Open Data Institute in Canada that was just launched with $3 million in funding.

At the same time, city-by-city efforts are mushrooming. The Open Data movement in Asia, for example, includes a lot of city-based initiatives. And in the U.S., Palo Alto, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and other cities have announced milestones in their Open Data work over the past several weeks.

Two news stories in February showed how cities are using Open Data to address problems that are unique to them. In San Francisco, which is going through an identity crisis over gentrification, the Chronicle ran a front-page story (while I happened to be visiting) on a new Open Data analysis: it shows the link between the routes for tech buses – which shuttle people from the city to Silicon Valley – and neighborhoods where rents and the cost of living are skyrocketing. And in Venice, Italy, Open Data is helping to fight the rising tides that threaten the city, as TechCrunch reports.

Freeing up the Freedom of Information Act. By a unanimous vote, the House of Representatives just passed a step forward in reforming the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The federal Freedom of Information Act, originally passed in 1966 and revised since then, is the cornerstone of Open Data policy. The U.S. was the first country in modern times to pass such a law, and similar laws have been passed in other countries in the years since. But the FOIA has not kept pace with digital technology and current Open Data expectations. It may be time for new legislation, which could help considerably.

Big step for Open Science. In a groundbreaking announcement, Johnson and Johnson has agreed to share clinical trial data with YODA, the Yale Open Data Access project (may the force be with them).  Opening up clinical trial data, so that the public can see negative as well as positive results, has been a major goal of Open Data advocates. The announcement came around the same time as a new Microsoft commitment to open science and an announcement that Novartis will open up more research data as well. If Open Data can make headway in the highly competitive world of pharmaceutical research, it will be major progress. As a Gartner analyst has pointed out, these new developments don’t eliminate corporate competition by any means, but could redefine the point where competition begins, and help both the companies themselves and the public in the process.

- Joel Gurin, Founder and Editor, OpenDataNow.com

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