Sunday, May 31, 2015

Does Northeast Wisconsin Want Open Data?

Today's post will not give you exhaustive coverage of all the benefits of open data.

The purpose of this post is to get people (who read it) thinking about whether the cost / benefit ratio of open data is high enough to make it worthwhile for all or part of NE Wisconsin.

A valuable outcome of the "DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015" will be people discussing and deciding whether they personally feel open data is good for this region.

Even better would be if that discussion was more widely spread throughout the general population of our area. And, if most people involved in the conversations about open data think it is worth pursuing, it will be fantastically fun to have talks with the appropriate city and county government people about making useful government public data available in an easy-to-use open format.

(If you don't know what 'open data' is, see "What Are Open Government And Open Data?" and "Appleton Open Data & Civic Hacking.")

As far as I can figure out, there's almost no public data available from governments in NE Wisconsin in an open data format. The minimal data that's open seems to be mainly GIS data (geographic information systems).

So the obvious answer to the question in the title of this post appears to be "No, NE Wisconsin doesn't want open data."

However, you sometimes want something when you don't have it. Lack of knowledge about the item may be the reason you don't want it. If the region had open data, it might solve problems or bring new opportunities. The catch is, open data won't magically appear. The government bodies who have the public data almost always have the data stored in a computer system that's not available to the public. And they often input or store the data in a format that's not user-friendly for today's coders who are using current programming tools and platforms that work well with open data.

So, if we're going to unlock the valuable potential of public information gathered or generated by the government with your tax dollars, we need to do the following:

  • Figure out what, if any, public data will be valuable when it is available in an open and easily-used format.
  • Discuss with public officials the best way to make that data available in a reasonable amount of time.
  • Develop one or several collaborative teams to develop civic hacks with that open data.
  • Publicize the availability of the open data and promote civic hacking of those data sets.
  • Promote use and improvement of the civic hacks after they're developed.

This sounds like good stuff, right? But what are some of the benefits of open data, since most people in NE Wisconsin don't know what it is? Well, the Forbes article "U.S. Government Data To Be Made Freely Available" put it this way in 2013:
"Interesting news out of The White House this this morning announcing an Open Data Executive Order...Along with the  order is an accompanying Open Data Policy released by the Office of Management and Budget and Office of Science and  Technology Policy. The order states that “going forward, newly generated  government data shall be made freely available in open, machine-readable formats, while  appropriately safeguarding privacy, confidentiality, and security. This requirement will help the  Federal government achieve the goal of making troves of previously inaccessible or unmanageable data easily available to entrepreneurs, innovators, researchers, and others who can use those data to generate new products and services, build businesses, and create jobs. Today’s actions are the latest manifestation of the...commitment to releasing and leveraging data in support of enhanced transparency and accountability, improved government services, and a stronger economy."
I'll do a future blog post that talks more in-depth about benefits of open data from the government. But for now, below are a couple specific benefits.

  • Releasing federal GPS and weather info as open data created new companies valued in the billions of dollars (whose products you've used).
  • Open data saved Canada $3.2 billion in charity tax fraud.
  • A woman in Denmark built a civic hack showing all the Danish public toilets, so that people she knew with bladder problems can now trust themselves to go out in public more.
  • Civic hacks in Germany allow you to find places to live, taking into account the duration of your commute to work, housing prices, and how beautiful an area is.

If you think NE Wisconsin should have more open data from its government bodies, let your elected officials know (although you may have to explain to them what open data is, and they may not want to change the way they are doing things now).

And consider participating in the June 6 civic hackathon in Appleton to meet and work with other people who feel open data would be beneficial for our region.

Click Here To Register Today for the free civic hackathon if you aren't already signed up!


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