This post originally appeared on the Center for Open Data Enterprise website.
As we’re approaching the two-year anniversary of the federal Open Data Policy, it’s a good time to take stock. How well is the government meeting the promise of open data, and what should we expect in the year ahead?
So far, the signs are good. The teams at 18F and the U.S. Digital Service are bringing new tech muscle to address government’s data and technology challenges. DJ Patil, who has had a brilliant career as a technology leader in the private sector, has just begun his new role as the country’s first Chief Data Scientist. And the idea of open data as a government priority continues to take hold.
One indication was an article by Kaveh Waddell in last week’s National Journal. The magazine, which describes itself as “the most credible and influential publication in Washington,” asked its writers to each select “one good idea” for their annual technology issue. Kaveh chose open data, and described its importance in a piece called “Government Data Wants to Be Free.” As he wrote:
“The federal government spends a lot of time and energy collecting data. Hundreds of agencies sit on vast supplies of information compiled from sources such as tax returns, geologic surveys, regulatory filings, student-loan statements, and Medicare records. . . The problem is that much of [the data] has been released as lengthy documents that aren’t readily searchable . . . The potential benefits of cleaning up existing government data, and releasing more data in machine-readable format, are vast.”
Kaveh’s article cited the excellent work being done by groups like the Sunlight Foundation, the Center for Responsive Politics, and the Data Transparency Coalition on data transparency – and stressed the business benefits of open data as well. We were pleased that he also covered our work at the Center for Open Data Enterprise, where, as he put it, we are promoting “open data for both business and public-interest purposes.” As he wrote, “By bringing businesses and nonprofits to the data suppliers” we hope “to make it easier for agencies to focus on cleaning up and restructuring the information that matters most.”
At the Center, we’re now planning a continuing series of Open Data Roundtables with federal agencies to bring data suppliers together with data users toward that end. We have upcoming Roundtables with the U.S. Departments of Transportation, Energy, and Education, and are talking with a number of other agencies as well. We believe that these structured, solution-focused dialogues can accelerate national efforts to make open data more relevant, accessible, and actionable, to everyone’s benefit.
We’re also working with colleagues outside the federal government to find new solutions to thorny data problems. Last week, I joined several meetings that Aneesh Chopra and Nick Sinai, former federal data leaders, convened in their new roles as fellows at the Shorenstein Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School. One major challenge, which they wrote about on their blog, is to upgrade key labor datasets that are the cornerstone of job training programs. We believe we can contribute to solving this problem and are working with expert data scientists to develop an approach for stakeholder engagement and technical improvements.
We’re launching the Center for Open Data Enterprise at an exciting and promising time for the emerging field of open data. We’ll keep you posted on our progress and on trends in the use of open data in the months ahead.
Joel Gurin, President and Founder, Center for Open Data Enterprise