Open Data Policy and Practice

Open Data Policy and Practice

Terry Buss (Carnegie Mellon University, Australia)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5888-2.ch513
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Abstract

Governments around the world recently launched policies to make public data more accessible and transparent. Policies are intended to encourage more interaction between government and citizens, foster accountability, and improve efficiency, effectiveness, economy, and perhaps equity. Open data initiatives depend almost entirely on information technology, applications, data and security. Policies while laudable have produced mixed results as governments implement them. Governments have been more or less successful depending on how much support they have among policy makers and the civil service, the extent to which whistle blowers and hackers have exploited the systems, met demands of citizens and stakeholders, made available funding in the right amounts over the long-term, and held people accountable. In spite of advances in open data, its long term impact on government performance and indeed democracy has yet to be determined.
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Introduction

90% of data in world today has been created in the past two years alone. Some estimate that data production will be 44 times greater in 2020 than it was in 2009. Others estimate an additional 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are being generated every day (Office of Australian Government Information Management, 2013, p.1).

Governments hold vast amounts of data paid for by taxpayers. Policymakers around the globe are now releasing much of their share of data in the public interest.

Case Study: Data.gov

In 2009, the Obama administration launched Data.gov—a “one stop shop” portal for accessing government data—in one of the first, if not the first, such initiatives. Other governments soon followed suit in a global movement of sorts.

As of 2013, Data.gov included 91,085 datasets, from 175 agencies, encompassing whole of government. This is a huge amount of data: the European Union open data portal (http://open-data.europa.eu) by contrast supports 6,286 datasets, the UK 38,000. Developers have written 349 aps that exploit the datasets, along with another 137 mobile aps. There are 409 government application programming interfaces (APIs).

In the first three months in operation, Data.gov hosted 219,053 downloads. In 2010, downloads increased to 1,337,352, followed by 1,534,478 downloads in 2011. In 2012, downloads precipitously decreased to 647,841. Countries downloading the most data were India, China, Canada, Japan and UK.

Data.gov includes dozens of communities of practice organized by topic, including everything from education to the environment. Each one hosts a blog managed by the community. Data.gov allows the public to suggest a dataset, which is then considered by the government. Data.gov posts metrics on visitor access to the site.

Data.gov spawns partnerships to publicize and exploit data analysis opportunities. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, for example, is helping to promote sematic web (Web 3.0) applications that will greatly increase the utility of the data available. There is also a developers’ corner to share knowledge about what works and what doesn’t. A special educators’ section allows sharing of curriculum designed to build skills and increase awareness among students at all levels.

The government periodically issues challenges to developers at http://www.whitehouse.gov/innovationfellows) to build capacity.

Data.gov includes a great deal of government data, but not all. Individual agencies also publish datasets to their own websites.

Several Examples

New York City government publishes its public health assessments for the city’s 25,000 restaurants, allowing the public to choose the healthiest places to eat. Hospitals publish data on everything from rates of infection to the number of procedures of various types performed. Terrorist incidents globally were once published by the National Counterterrorism Center (www.nctc.gov) but have mysteriously been removed.

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Background

Open Data—releasing government data to the public with few if any strings attached—is part of a larger suite of policies and initiatives under the umbrella of E-Government, including Open Government and Open Technology. Ostensibly, the purpose of Open Data is to strengthen democracy by improving citizen access to data which in the past was tightly held by government and only occasionally available through often costly Freedom of Information Act (FOI) requests (http://www.foi.vic.gov.au/). Improved access would then lead to greater government accountability through transparency. Improved accountability, in turn, would improve governance by improving efficiency, effectiveness, economy and most recently equity.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Evidence-Based Policy: Reliance on rigorous, scientifically sound research and analysis to create findings that improve government decision making by policy makers and managers.

Open Technology: A government policy that allows users access to platforms or systems with very few constraints or restrictions on their use.

Semantic Web/Web 3.0: Incorporation of natural language search, context, data mining, machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities in Open Data and Open Technology websites.

E-Government: A web-based system that allows the public to consume services or engage in transactions with agencies that includes Open Data, Open Technology and Open Government.

Metadata: A file that explains the format, structure, and coding of raw data. It is a codebook for understanding the data.

Open Source Software: Non-proprietary software that can be used with very few constraints or restrictions.

Open Data: A government policy requiring agencies to release its data holdings to the public unless there is a compelling reason (e.g., national security, privacy, commercial in confidence) to not to release them. Formal definitions are found at http://www.ausgoal.gov.au/what_is_open and http://opendefinition.org/okd/ .

Wiki: A web-based content management system that fosters collaboration usually around the editing of documents.

Open Government: A government policy allowing the public to interact with public officials and organizations to encourage engagement.

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