> What is Open Data and Why is it Important?

This is a post from one of our partners, Open Data Solutions. Open Data is an exciting new concept which will be spreading through at least North America, and the rest of the world in the next couple of years. Everyone should be aware of this policy and figure out how they can be involved. See the original post here: http://opendatasolutions.blogspot.com/

At the beginning of this year, President Obama signed an executive order, requiring federal government agencies to have their data available to the public and machine-readable. Without commenting on the effectiveness of this order, or the percentage of agencies who follow, we should still note that for the United States, this was a big step towards bringing open data policies further forward into the public eye. There is still a long road ahead before Open Data is a household term, as well as much more to be accomplished at not only the federal level, but also the state, city and country government levels. Open Data Solutions is dedicated to establishing, cultivating and maintaining these government open data initiatives. Before the establishment of an open data portal, however, it is important to understand what Open Data really is and why it’s important.

What is Open Data?

“Open Data” is a policy in which governments release their raw data in machine–readable format. This data is unbiased, with no previous analysis and has been collected using tax payer money. From here, government open data initiatives take this data and provide visualizations to make this data easily navigable and understood by the public. Visualizations can be in the form of spreadsheets or interactive maps or charts – however the data is best displayed. These government initiatives are driven by involvement of their communities. Citizens can request data sets, anything from crime records to environmental data to broadband speeds. This civic engagement is vital to the success of an open data portal.

Open Data vs Open Government
Open Government and Open Data are similar but are not the same thing. Open Government is a policy which promotes “transparency” but instead of the raw, machine-readable data, Open Government data is released in pre-analyzed, proprietary formatting. While this is technically “transparency” of data, it doesn’t allow for the data to be shared and used in any way but how it’s released. Open Data has many more uses than Open Government data.

The Many Uses of Open Data
Because Open Data is raw data, and more data sets can be requested, the possibilities are endless. The Open Data portals that are most effective use their data in ways with which citizens can easily interact. For instance, the City of Chicago lists all crimes from 2001 to present. Another successful portal, the City of Raleigh, shows all parking in Raleigh – public and private. This data, collected by the government with tax payers’ money, is now available to the public in an easily understood format. Any dataset can be requested and with Open Data, citizens have the resources to be safer, more knowledgeable constituents.

-Katie Berryann