Tag Archives | opendata

Transitioning to Open Government Data

Earlier this fall, I was on a panel at the Association of Public Data Users annual conference. I do love going to DC and being in a room full of people who know what the Consolidated Federal Funds Report is.

The point of the presentation was:

  • Open government data is really exciting and has so much potential.
  • If it’s going to replace traditional sources of “designed” government data, people will be left behind.

Josh Tauberer’s 2nd Principle of Open Government Data says that data should be provided in its most granular form:

This principle relates to the change in emphasis from providing government information to information consumers to providing information to mediators, including journalists, who will build applications and synthesize ideas that are radically different from what is found in the source material. While information consumers typically require some analysis and simplification, information mediators can achieve more innovative solutions with the most raw form of government data

As a data person, I support this principle 100%. That said, it’s a huge change for organizations used to getting pre-packaged government information. Congratulations–you’ve just been promoted to mediator!


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The Demise of Government-Created Statistical Data?

Washington MonumentLike most data people, I prefer order and logic. So it was a huge shock when I joined a federal budget research organization and started learning about the orderly and logical process by which the U.S. government creates an annual budget. An orderly and logical process that Congress mostly disregards.

Really, the whole politicized debacle offends my sensibilities as a citizen and as a data professional.

Furthermore, the recent zeal for budget cuts has resulted in budget cuts that affect our ability to make smart budget cuts. Specifically, I’m talking about attacks on government-created statistical data—data that’s* used by lawmakers, social service organizations, and businesses to make decisions and allocate increasingly-scarce resources.

Two examples I’ve written about recently:

  • Is Federal Spending Transparency on the Decline?: a guest post for the Sunlight Foundation’s blog about the demise of the Consolidated Federal Funds Report and why that makes it harder to understand federal spending.
  • American Community Survey Under Attack: the House recently passed a spending bill that prohibits the Department of Commerce from funding the American Community Survey (ACS). The yearly ACS replaced the decennial census long-form questionnaire, and its data helps* state and local governments determine how to distribute funds, among other things. See here, here, and here for more information about the widespread usefulness of the ACS.

Of course, order and logic sometimes need to be tempered with a dose of pragmatism. But when our governing body is governed almost entirely by short-term thinking, we should think about not electing them again.

*Language evolves!

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Save the data, save on FOIA?

Last week I wrote my first entries on the National Priorities Project’s (NPP) blog. Friday’s piece concerned the potential $32 million cuts to the Federal government’s open data initiatives.

Alexander Howard wrote a tremendous overview of the situation, from the recent history of open government platforms to the less-than-perfect implementation of those platforms to the implications of having their funding cut from $34 million to $2 million.

He quoted some of NPP’s numbers that try to put $32 million in context. In terms of the Federal budget, it’s a tiny sum of money–.0009% of the proposed FY11 spending.

That’s an interesting figure, but even if $32 million is just a drop in the bucket, that’s not to say we should spend it carelessly. I’m new to the open government scene, but you don’t have to dig too far into Data.gov to realize it’s far from perfect. Howard’s primer provides some insight into the perverse incentives behind quirks like datasets split up by geography and agencies that don’t publish their juicy stuff.

But consider another number we published: $32 million is 7.7% of the amount that the government spent processing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests in FY10.

A compelling story would be to find out what types of FOIA requests could be serviced via the Data.gov suite of sites. Even better, why not use these requests to prioritize the data that’s released online?

If we can use $32 million to take a bite out of that $416+ million FOIA bill*, why not pursue that investment?

Some of my colleagues would say because it’s not about the money—it’s about policy. As a developer, I have a hard time wrapping my brain around that. Policy? Why wouldn’t our elected officials just make decisions that are logical?

It seems I have much to learn.

*figure pulled from FOIA.gov/data.

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