New York State lags other states and large cities in the implementation of open data. In a recent blog post and radio interview, I have argued why it is vital that New York State implement an open data initiative. In this post, I will explain how it can be done.
The momentum toward open government data in the United States is buoyed by the following principle: government must be transparent. Governments collect huge amounts of data. They should make that data freely and easily accessible to citizens on whose behalf they collect the data in the first place.
The emergence of inexpensive technologies that enable open data initiatives is accelerating that momentum. Just as I can upload my personal data (documents, photographs, videos, music, etc.) to a cloud service and then retrieve it when and where I want to, governments can now upload their data sets to the cloud, allowing their citizens to retrieve that data and analyze it in a way that makes sense to them.
What community wouldn’t love to have access to a crime map like the one above, for example? Clever technology renders an overwhelmingly large data set easy to use by any citizen who can interact with and drill into the map to see extraordinary detail on recent crime in San Francisco’s neighborhoods.
Inexpensive, cloud-based, off-the-shelf solutions
There are many open data cloud services emerging. For example, Socrata serves the Unites States, numerous states and large cities, among them New York City. By taking advantage of the economies of scale and pervasive access of cloud computing, Socrata can increase citizen access to government data and online services and at the same time lower the government’s costs of delivering that information.
By using cloud-based services like Socrata’s, New York State can eliminate the need for high-cost, custom application development or updates to legacy systems. Because there is no need for a lengthy multi-million dollar information technology project, departments simply begin to upload their .csv and .txt files, spreadsheets and databases to the open data portal service. Data sets immediately become available. Transparency is achieved. Citizens are informed and empowered. Job done.
How things could be in New York State
Let’s say I want to know the average expenditure per student by the state’s school districts. In Oregon, I simply go to the open data portal and search “school district expenditures.” I am immediately presented with a data table that I can browse, search, sort and filter. In addition, I can view the same data as a bubble chart created and saved by another user. Finally, I can embed the data table in this blog!
In New York State, there is no open data portal. So I search “school district expenditures” in Google, which returns 39 million results. After the first 20 hits, I have not seen a link to a data set but only articles and news reports. Frustrated, I go to the New York State Education Department website and search. There, the same query returns dozens of articles, legal briefs and technical reports but no data table that I can browse, search, sort and filter. As Oregon proves, it does not have to be this way.
As easy as getting a weather forecast
Imagine that finding the New York State data you need were as easy as accessing the weather on your smart phone. In states that have implemented open data cloud services, it is often that simple — and it should be that easy in New York State. Further, open data cloud services create robust markets for apps that improve your quality of life and make government more transparent.
Open data cloud services are disruptive, game-changing technologies that fundamentally redefine the relationship between citizens and government data. They make access to data easy, efficient, and inexpensive. In fact, the implementation of an open data platform in New York State will make the old “technology” for doing so — the arduous, time consuming and often expensive Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request — obsolete in many cases. Indeed, we in New York State can have sunlight without the pain — just as they do in Oregon, Oklahoma, Utah and Illinois.
The bottom line
New York State should immediately implement open data cloud services and make its data sets easily available in a single, statewide portal with tools and facilities that allow citizens to browse and analyze that data easily. If other states and cities, including Mayor Bloomberg and New York City, can implement open data, then why not Governor Cuomo and New York State?