open data

Open data gurus share best practices

In honor of Data Innovation Day the city of Philadelphia released a guidebook to provide advice and information to city departments and agencies on releasing open data. The city’s Open Data Guidebook offers suggestions on reviewing data for completeness and accuracy, adding metadata components and terms of use as well as staging the data and using application programming interfaces. 

Like Philadelphia, many cities, states and localities have been able to run their own open data efforts. Gainesville, Fla., for example, launched its Open Data portal, which allows the public to access information ranging from city budgets to its utility consumption. 

Other government offices have found partners to help them make more data available to users both within and outside government. Cook County, Ill., signed an agreement with the Smart Chicago Collaborative to help county agencies to develop and identify new data sets to publish, prepare the county’s data and post it on a public website, according to a post on the Cook County blog

Smart Chicago also will help create visuals, infographics and other Web-based content to make it easier for government officials and residents to understand how the county is performing. 

Mary Jo Horace, Cook County’s interim CIO of the Bureau of Technology, said that “partnering with Smart Chicago lets us to tap into its hands-on expertise as the County expands its data catalog.” 

While many governments are embracing open data, there are some hurdles to implementation, including staff expertise and upfront costs. In Washington state, the House is considering a bill that would require public officials and employees to undergo training on open government laws.  

In Arkansas, government officials cited cost as a serious impediment to not immediately implementing an open data plan. Yet there are long-term savings with an open data plan, particularly with the amount of time it can take to process requests manually.

As open data is a work in progress, some best practices are emerging. The Governance Lab at New York University (The GovLab) released a preview of its study of 500 companies using open government data as a key business resource.

While a wide variety of companies use government data, they report that it is “often incomplete, inaccurate, or trapped in hard-to-use systems and formats,” said Stefaan Verhulst in a GovLab post, offering policy recommendations. 

Based on the report’s findings, Verhulst recommends agencies improve data quality; improve open data resources, such as and Project Open Data on GitHub; pass the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act; reform the Freedom of Information Act; solicit and encourage feedback from data users on how they want the data; and continue using crowdsourcing and collective intelligence initiatives such as to use open data to solve a variety of issues. 

Many cities' data policies and developer resources are linked at Other resources include:

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.


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