Around the world, governments are opening access to public data sets. The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and even Kenya have open data portals. States such as Oregon, Utah and Illinois do as well.
These portals allow the public to find, download and use machine-readable data sets generated by the government. Indeed, the US’s data.gov now provides access to thousands of data sets.
New York City is also emerging as a leader. Mayor Bloomberg’s NYC BigApps 3.0 competition is currently underway. The contest offers $50,000 in cash and other prizes for the best new apps that use more than 800 New York City data sets to make government more transparent and improve “the daily lives of New York City residents and visitors.”
Open data initiatives have produced a myriad of innovations. We can locate superfund sites or visualize the health of our communities. New York City commuters access and update real-time subway, bus and driving conditions. San Francisco drivers locate open parking spaces and their cost. Baltimore’s 311 mobile app enables citizens to receive or share crisis data during natural disasters and to report the locations of pot holes, graffiti or broken streetlights. In the United Kingdom, the government is publishing data including every contract and item of government spending over £25,000.
In the meantime, New York State lags miserably. Interested citizens, researchers and entrepreneurs who seek financial data from the Comptroller’s Office or student performance data from the State Education Department, for example, will find themselves confronted with machine-inaccessible formats, such as PDF. Because the data provided is not machine-readable or linked, it has significantly diminished utility.
In New York State, access to data is limited, citizens are in the dark, researchers are frustrated and app developers go elsewhere. There is an alternative.Allow the public access to machine readable New York State government data in non-proprietary formats. Convert that data into open linked standards to allow it to be easily connected to other data. Then encourage broad, innovative use of the data by providing the appropriate tools and incentives, such as the mayor’s BigApps competition.
Free and open access to data:
- Spurs innovation and economic development
- Increases government transparency and accountability
- Reduces waste and fraud
- Improves our quality of life
- Strengthens our democracy.
Governor Cuomo, there is a compelling ethical, civic and economic case for New York State to provide access to high-value, machine-readable public data sets.
Please, free the data.
Sean Brady, President, Prism Decision Systems, LLC
John Sipple, Associate Professor, Cornell University & Director, New York State Center for Rural Schools