It has never been easier for citizens to get their hands on government data. The website data.gov features over 193,000 datasets (and counting) from every area of the government at federal, state, and local levels. State, county, and city governments have also been pioneers in the open data movement. Cheerleaders for open data include President Barack Obama, Tim Berners-Lee (the inventor of the Web), and seemingly everyone in the technology industry.
There is much more government can do to make its data open, now and in the future—I’ve written about the historical importance of the government’s open data movement before. But the open data genie is not going back into its bottle. The data is out there; it is machine-readable, ready to be used and programmed in countless ways.
So … now what?
Governments often mark the success of open data by how many datasets they’ve published on open portals. But publishing data, I’d argue, is open data 1.0. Open data 2.0 involves putting these data to good use. It means open data that informs policymaking budgetary decisions, that raises awareness of issues, and ultimately, that empowers communities.
Transparency is not the same as seeing. “Transparency” is an apt metaphor for describing the goals of the open data movement—and, as it turns out, its limitations. Traditionally, “government transparency” has involved regulatory requirements for publishing documents publicly. Open data is a newer and more complex concept, since it involves raw data that can be repurposed and made interactive, rather than just read-only documents. Of course, transparency is still the motive. Open data has created a vast window into the inner workings of government that citizens can look through—provided they have the skills to work with datasets.