The untapped Open Data opportunity: who will unlock government data?

I’m fascinated by the Open Data movement, particularly when it comes to government where the concept of open data hinges on the belief that data is a public asset – just like highways and parks – and should be made available to all.

We’ve already seen compelling examples of people hacking into this available data for the public good. For example, at the recent Open Data Day here in Vancouver, projects ranged from a visualization of Vancouver’s budget to an analysis of test scores at local schools. One project even took Vancouver’s open elevation data to recreate the city in MineCraft.

Making data available, discoverable, and usable will help improve the effectiveness of governments, strengthen our democracy, as well as create opportunities to improve everyone’s quality of life. Open data encourages innovation from both the inside and outside:

  • Innovation from the outside: Putting information in the hands of the public makes it possible for innovative citizens and companies to create groundbreaking solutions and improvements to some of the biggest challenges facing the community. For example, on a small scale, one website monitors and analyzes Vancouver’s bike accidents, revealing the trend that bike accidents decline along roads with bike lanes and increase where bike lanes end.
  • Innovation from the inside: When government data is accessible and easily usable, other governments and government agencies are able to compare experiences and share best practices. Although government data is public today, most state and city governments do not readily share information. The Open Data movement can unlock this data, so local governments don’t necessarily have to recreate the wheel. They can look at examples and models of what has already worked.

Where are the start-ups to take on this opportunity?

Making data publicly available is just a first step. In order for the Open Data movement to truly bring about change in government, that data needs to be searchable, discoverable, and usable. But so far companies have mainly focused on helping governments transform data (usually financial data) into actionable information. For example, there’s OpenGov, Open Data Soft, and Junar.

In addition to these players, we need applications and websites that put the data into something useful for both governments and citizens – whether by visualization, integration, or notification. We need a company that can take all the existing public datasets and make them accessible and comparable through a single platform… similar to what Clever does in education. It’s an incredible opportunity to make a significant difference: the question is who will lead the way?

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