Open data making progress at state and government agency level in the US

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan June 2, 2014
The publication of a new report from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) prompts a quick look at the progress of the Obama administration’s US Open Data Action Plan.

The publication of a new report from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) prompts a quick look at the progress of the Obama administration’s US Open Data Action Plan.

That has its roots in the June 2013 pledge made at the Open Data Charter meeting of G7 leaders to publish a roadmap for improving use of open data as well as Obama's executive order requiring federal agencies to make government data open and machine readable by default.

The NASCIO report, States and Open Data: From Museum to Market Place – What’s next?, looks at what has occurred across the US and offers some recommendations on how to advance state government open data initiatives and begin moving to a next level of maturity, which it calls the strategic stage.

The report’s release comes shortly after the Whitehouse issued an update to the Action Plan early last month. The original plan requires agencies to:

  • Improve the way they describe and publish their data sets by better focusing on users needs.
  • Work with public and civil society organizations to prioritize open data sets for release.
  • Help innovators use open government data to develop products and services.
  • Work with Presidential Innovation Fellows to help accelerate work on a series of data innovation projects.

Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel and Federal CTO Todd Park highlighted the enhancements on the Whitehouse blog:

Small Business Data: The Small Business Administration’s (SBA) database of small business suppliers will be enhanced so that software developers can create tools to help manufacturers more easily find qualified U.S. suppliers, ultimately reducing the transaction costs to source products and manufacture domestically.
Smithsonian American Art Museum Collection: The Smithsonian American Art Museum’s entire digitized collection will be opened to software developers to make educational apps and tools. This information will soon be available to everyone.
FDA Adverse Drug Event Data: Each year, healthcare professionals and consumers submit millions of individual reports on drug safety to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These anonymous reports are a critical tool to support drug safety surveillance. Today, this data is only available through limited quarterly reports. But the Administration will soon be making these reports available in their entirety so that software developers can build tools to help pull potentially dangerous drugs off shelves faster than ever before.

Progress towards maturity

As it happens, the NASCIO report finds that open data is gaining momentum across government, particularly at state level. It argues:

States and local governments have put a vast amount of raw data out on the web for consumption. One of the primary producers and consumers of this data is state government. Open data initiatives have achieved something that has historically been rather challenging – the sharing of information across agencies and across jurisdictions. That significant contribution deserves recognition. States are closer to a true “enterprise wide” perspective thanks to these open data initiatives.

But NASCIO does call for a more mature approach to implementation of open data strategies:

As with any complex transition, there are levels of learning – levels of maturity. We’ve seen some type of maturity curve with every new technology, every new business idea, and virtually any new concept.

It defines a first level of maturity as the ideation state, or recognizing the value of open data initiatives and responding to citizens’ demands for openness and transparency.

There then follows a proliferation state when there is a push across the states to get more data onto government websites for consumption without much of a strategy:

other than to publish unless there is a good reason not to publish certain datasets.

With that in mind, NASCIO calls on those responsible for open data initiatives to ensure that they:

  • Determine the value of data and information assets.
  • Define policies, methods and procedures for refreshing, archiving and records management.
  • Establish and manage data portfolios.
  • Select and assess candidate data sets.
  • Establish meaningful metrics.

Crucially there needs to be a willingness not to publish certain types of data:

Data that does not prove to be useful, particularly if there is a significant number of such datasets, should be removed from open data sites.

Open data initiatives will mature in capabilities but that will require well planned governance and strategy that includes input from citizens.

The report also cautions agencies that they must understand:

  • What is the business case for doing open-data initiatives and the cost versus the benefit?
  • Who is paying for these resources, and who is benefiting?
  • Who is consuming the data?
  • Are government employees, citizens and industry prepared to exploit the data?
  • What changes or advances in decision-making, civic engagement, accountability and creation of new information and knowledge are possible?

LA Data

That apart, work continues apace around the US, with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti last week formally launching, an open resource offering access to data collected by the City of LA. Garcetti said at the inaugural meeting of Mayor's Council on Technology & Innovation:

Angelenos deserve transparency and accountability, and an open view of government. Our new Open Data portal gives residents access to the same information as their elected officials. With this new tool, academics, developers, journalists, and anyone with an interest in Los Angeles can access a one-stop treasure trove of information that was previously scattered across city websites if it was available at all.

Open Data
The mission statement for the site is simple:

To promote transparency and accountability, the City of Los Angeles (“City”) will make publicly available raw data in easy-to-find and accessible formats. Open Data is raw data generated or collected by government agencies made freely available for use by the public, subject only to valid privacy, confidentiality, security, and other legal restrictions.

It was of course heavily emphasised that this is a work-in-progress. As of launch day there were 200 data sets from a range of city departments, the work of 6 months development. More will be added over time.

It's all progress. As Jack Madans, government partnerships manager for Code for America, commented:

Los Angeles has very much been in the open data wilderness. Today, we’re seeing them join a movement of cities opening up data.

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