Civic Awesome: Open Data in the News for the Week of August 17, 2015

Open data showed its staying power this week, staking more long-term ground in high-level discussions of efficiencies and ethics, as well as demonstrating its life-saving benefits. Plus: New Orleans’ Behind the Numbers blog tackles gun violence with open data.

Favor Quality Over Quantity

Governments see big benefits from open data, explains Tod Newcombe in Techwire. First, it makes their operations transparent and accountable, to help rebuild public trust. Second, it’s an economic engine, both in efficiency savings and in tech innovation. “The rising fortunes of Socrata” show the drive toward these benefits, with Socrata announcing “104 percent year-over-year growth in its customer base.” Often before governments can rake in the benefits, though, they have to shell out funds for data formatting, liability protections, and more. Costs can be better managed by opening datasets based on quality rather than quantity, Newcombe recommends, including “a careful analysis of which datasets have the most impact.”

David Eaves on Government and Tech

Open government consultant David Eaves wants to see better and more training around open data for government employees. “How can the digital laggards in the public sector catch up?” Eaves asks. He says they need to recognize “the sea change that technology and data-driven decision-making represent,” and transform their culture and organization “to meet modern technology standards.” Eaves contends government needs people whose “sharp-edged data literacy and technology skills” are balanced by a strong sense of ethics and commitment to public service. Eaves backs up his vision with practical tips, urging people to check out Massive Open Online Courses and books like “Seeing Like a State.”

Open Data: Saving Lives

Emergency services, disaster relief, healthcare, and other vital community needs are getting boosted by open data, writes Eleanor Ross in the Guardian. In Trafford, a borough of Greater Manchester, England, a group used open data to predict the areas of greatest need for public defibrillators, helping the mayor to identify optimum locations around town. Also, open data has been strikingly at the forefront of disaster relief and emergency services, notably with data management system Ushahidi. The system gathers information from a crowd and transforms it into easy visualisations,” allowing emergency technicians and administrators “to make decisions based on facts rather than guesswork,” including during the Nepal earthquake.

New Orleans Crime Data

Analyzing publicly available crime data” can deliver sharp insights into “a variety of crimes in near real time,” says Jeff Asher, writing for the Sunlight Foundation. Asher calls out New Orleans’ publicly available data sets, the Major Offense Log and the Calls for Service database. He uses them to analyze New Orleans crime data in his Behind the Numbers blog, showing, for example, how murder has risen in the city, and how the crime connects to gun violence. “The key questions for reducing gun violence are answerable largely because the data for analyzing those questions are being made publicly available for the first time,” explains Asher.

California Tackles Ethics of Open Data

Ethics and oversight around open data are hot topics in California government, reports Eyragon Eidam in Techwire. The open data movement is growing quickly in the Golden State, with enthusiasm high in both the public and private sectors. Eidam quotes Ash Roughani, founder of Code for Sacramento, as saying open data is “a mindset in how folks in government and the folks in the community think about working with each other.” Now, Eidam says, “with more government agencies taking on the task of looking at and publishing their data for all to see,” officials are discussing whether defining rules and setting regulations are “the next natural steps.”