3 Next Steps to Take After Publishing Open Data

The open data movement is in transition. Over the past decade, the public sector has dramatically increased the quantity and regularity with which it publishes open data. Legislation at the federal and local levels suggests that open data is here to stay.

But, if we have grander ambitions for open data — to engage residents and transform the democratic process, to make more informed decisions, and to improve the quality of life in our communities — how can we make this happen? And if we envision open data innovations emerging from strategic collaboration between the public sector, private sector, and stakeholders, who will do this work?

As the Founder and CEO of Open Data Nation, I consult civic administrators and technologists about how to educate, empower, and engage open data users. In these conversations, we ask “You’ve published open data, now what?”

Consistently, we heard the same five responses from governments at the progressive edge of the open data movement. In last week’s post, we covered two of them: How to prepare employees to contribute and tips for spreading the word about your newly published open data. In this post, find out how to use feedback from users, teach and hire data-minded employees, and evaluate your data for insights.

1. Incorporate What You’ve Learned

Publishing open data does not come with an instruction manual, but those who are using (or trying to use) open data provide valuable feedback. Enabling a discourse with users will start a conversation and improve the public service of providing open data. Incorporating their feedback — to revise datasets, publish APIs, or add new datasets — will add value for users by helping them build or grow businesses, clarify public services, or otherwise answer their questions.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the city of New Orleans was faced with a big problem — 40,000 derelict properties were contributing to urban blight. As demand for timely information about derelict properties and renovation plans grew, the city sought to identify and address gaps in their data by expanding collaborations with grassroots organizations that had been mapping and tracking these properties. They asked:

  • What standards should the city establish?
  • What is the right data to release?
  • Can we incorporate feedback regularly and systematically?
  • Is it possible to develop a community of practice?

By 2015, the city established mechanisms for continuous community engagement around open data. Today, the public can suggest datasets for publication in the city’s portal and requests will be scored and prioritized based on data availability, completeness, accuracy, timeliness, and ability to be automated. Additionally, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests are streamlined by linking users directly to data when it is available, rather than responding manually to all requests.

2. Teach and Hire Data-Minded People

With growth in the availability and variety of jobs requiring familiarity with data — ranging from data architects to data analysts and designers to mobile application developers — employers are confronted with a real challenge: how do they hire a modern workforce or train their existing employees with 21st century skills? Capturing talent with the knowledge of local applications for open data may require new approaches to recruiting and retaining employees

To this end, General Assembly, an educational center teaching technology, business, and design to adult learners, asked:

  • Can we retrain existing employees or train new ones for data-intensive jobs?
  • How do we connect skilled talent to quality data science job opportunities?
  • Can we ensure equity, inclusion, and technological innovation?
  • How do we collaborate with those already working with open data?

In partnership with General Assembly’s DC office, Open Data Nation is incorporating open data into an academic curriculum of full-time and part-time courses such as: data science, visualization, and web application development. Weekly “open data office hours”provide mentoring and learning support for students and members of the public who see an application for open data in their work.

In the fall of 2015, Open Data Nation will pilot its own courses, bringing together students from the public sector, private sector, press, and public colleges to General Assembly in Washington, DC. After five one-week courses of instruction, students will graduate with a portfolio demonstrating the technology skills they have acquired, greater job preparedness, and interviews at national consulting and media companies. Hiring organizations can observe students’ final projects, assess talent, and hire directly into open positions requiring these skills.

3. Evaluate Data for Insights

To realize the full value of open data, practitioners must see its potential for impact and added value. They must evaluate data for insights, with an eye towards identifying opportunities to inform policies and improve communities. Policy changes and legislation become much easier when there are quantifiable metrics and tangible products enabled by open data.

At the Lab for Regional Innovation and Spatial Analysis (LRISA) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (the brainchild of Professor Amy Glasmeier) academics asked:

  • In what ways can open data add value?
  • Is it possible to create new economic opportunities or save money by leveraging open data?
  • Can open data improve the quality of life of residents?

Bringing together data from open and public data sources, Open Data Nation worked with MIT to gauge whether low-wage employees can subsist on their current wages and to promote alternative “living wage” policies and potential regulations. Our study showed that financial self-sufficiency is out of reach for more than 19.1 million families, or more than one-third (37.6 percent) of all families in the U.S. Compelled by the results, the housewares and furniture retailer IKEA, decided to use MIT’s living wage to set wages in all of their 38 retail stores in the U.S. In 2015, low-wage earners at IKEA will get a 10 percent pay hike. At the same time, IKEA has projected efficiencies in their operations that will come from lower turnover and reduced costs of hiring and training new employees.

In the second wave of the open data movement, innovators will move towards executing their vision: to prepare employees to contribute, tell others about their open data, incorporate what they have learned, teach and hire data-minded employees, and evaluate data for insights.


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