New Jersey takes on open data challenges

A new report from the Public Technology Institute examines challenges and opportunities presented by open data.

What: The Public Technology Institute’s “Report on the New Jersey Open Government Data Thought Forum.”

Why: As governments adopt open data policies and the private sector develops applications and marketing solutions with the data, consumer and citizen expectations are rising. To meet the growing demand for open data, agencies must build a solid open government data model.

Findings: Thought leaders from representing media, academia, state and local government as well as open government and civic groups discussed the challenges and opportunities presented by open government data.

With the growing need for open government data, the report found six major challenges in the state of New Jersey:

  1. Identifying how New Jersey’s government’s structure affects both state and municipal agency open data activities.
  2. Providing the required time, attention and funding to open data.
  3. Reaching consensus on understanding the value of open government data and how to best provide it.
  4. Managing, using and measuring the quality of data.
  5. Addressing the intersection of public records laws and open public data.
  6. Acquiring the technology and staff necessary to manage the data.

To address these challenges, the report suggested governments recognize that opening data does not happen quickly -- it evolves with the public demand, the changes in technology, standards and software. While state and local agencies re-engineer data collection practices to open more data, legislation may be needed to resolve compliance issues between New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act and new open data imperatives.

Agencies with oversight responsibility should create a “one-stop data shop,” or a centralized resource to reduce duplication and make data more accessible to users. If the state is the data manger, it should provide the hosting and the tools or the partnership opportunities with other agencies or third parties to do so.  Agencies also must require legacy paper-based systems move to digital standards with open data policies.

Even without mandates, state and local agencies can learn more about open data, assess  current practices, produce a data inventory, prioritize datasets for opening. Additional steps may include ensuring technology services – such as payroll or police records -- can deliver machine-readable data and managing the technology and processes to post open data. For example, municipalities  could experiment with opening budget and financial information, crime reports, restaurant inspections and property assessment and tax data.

The report’s final recommendations included welcoming third-parties to develop guidance and provide support to open data policies and practices. Third parties could also provide training, advocate for legislative policy changes, build lab or research centers to support agencies looking to implement open data and establish collaborative forums to continue discussing challenges.

Takeaway: More work is needed before open data practices become mainstream in state and local government. For most agencies, opening government data will require setting priorities, allocating resources, aligning policies and experimenting and learning from others.

Get more: Read the full report here.

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