Local Benefits of Open Data

CapGemini recently published their report on the progress and success of global open data initiatives, at a country level. It has some really insightful data and points, and isn’t a tough read at 17 pages. As my city Oakland, and our county, Alameda, launch their open data platforms I think this national level report has a lot for us to consider about local efforts.

Some broad concepts that we seek to capture:

Open Data drives growth by stimulating the creation of firms that reuse freely available government information in innovative ways.

This is the macro promise, and it’s a clear correlation.  In the San Francisco East bay it will be telling if these benefits are local, where the data live, or dispersed and hard to measure as local benefits of local efforts.

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And now the test of time begins:

96% of the countries analyzed in our research shared data which is not regularly updated.

This is the ugly stuff- maintenance. It’s great to get publicity friendly wins on the board with data releases, cool new apps and tools, but in a year down the road, if those new data are the same data then we’re just made a blip on the heart rate monitor and it’s not looking like a living, breathing being anymore.

But we need to be honest in the civic innovation/hacking world too- there have been incredibly powerful and cool things built by amazing developers, especially the work of Code for America, but many of these things created in past years that have not been commercialized face an ugly reality- the task of maintenance.

Google learned some good, hard lessons with updating road data for Google maps (Apple Maps seems to be doing more of the hard and less of the good so far). I have some mixed feelings about a lot of tech I love to use- uncertainty about the ease which we can manage both granular and major changes to the underlying data used. If users add to the administrative data it’s a great collaboration, when the underlying data shifts slightly however, we have some tough work to do. Let’s not forget that. Enterprise and government level tech frequently sucks, in some part because it requires full time managing of the data. I’m hoping our more cutting edge tools stand up to these tests in the coming years.

Sustaining open

Open Data initiatives need to be driven from the top with strong political leadership.

We now have two great resources in Oakland/Alameda. City and County staff have listened to those of us who encouraged these efforts and have done good work to implement the tools and practices to support open data. What is now clearly absent from our efforts is the legislative support to truly sustain and mandate these initiatives don’t just disappear at the whim of any bureaucrat or budget adjustment. No US cities or jurisdictions I’m aware of have done it quite like we have here. These efforts have been driven by informed political leaders who have implemented laws and orders to support and sustain open data. We are now at that time in Oakland & Alameda. Our mayor and councilors, our supervisors need to now swiftly adapt legislation used in many other cities (a very easy task, heck I’ve done it for them already and given them copies) to show not only their support for this efforts, but to clarify their vision and intent in law.

I’m looking to our leaders to really drive these efforts, to provide a vision that puts them in context and laws to ensure these great efforts don’t die on the vine like too many other good efforts have.  Open government is good government, it also happens to be smart government. Data is now becoming open and public, now you can really engage your communities  with and through these data!

The original report PDF

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