In the ongoing quest to bring residents and municipalities the open data they want and need, Washington state is simultaneously assessing its own progress toward that goal with a new online dashboard that tracks the progress of 27 state agencies as they choose what information to make public and define their process.
The dashboard was released by the Office of the CIO (OCIO) on Oct. 31, which also was the deadline for state agencies to submit their open data plans. So far 22 have done so; another five are still in the earlier consultation phase.
"Other than the occasional nagging phone call," no punitive measures are planned for those who didn't make the deadline, said Will Saunders, senior program manager for open data for the state of Washington, who who works closely with the state's chief privacy officer and leads the state Open Data Advisory Group formed last year. Ultimately, all agencies are expected to publish and adjust their plans as needed.
Saunders said the manually-updated dashboard is an idea previously used by the state group Results Washington, which measures agencies' and the governor's progress toward goals.
"It’s kind of a performance management convention in Washington state to do live dashboards for progress on strategic goals. I suppose you call it drinking our own champagne," Saunders said, explaining why the OCIO released this example. "It’s following their model."
The agencies that created open data plans on time included Washington’s departments of Veteran Affairs and Transportation, its Office of the State Treasurer, and the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Agencies that have only consulted to date include Consolidated Technology Services and the Office of Minority and Women’s Business Enterprises.
In 2017, however, all will be expected to keep pushing data out to residents and municipalities, using what they learn from those interactions to update their plans and available data sets.
Saunders described the process as a "longer term, slower burn" effort that dates back to 1996, when lawmakers created a task force on information access.
That task force recommended building information access into the new system as it was designed and acquired, focusing on multiple agency systems that could be used by more than one department, and finding out and focusing on the data people want most.
As for what data Washingtonians want most, data.wa.gov ranks the most popular data sets, and in some cases has prompted the removal of underutilized sets. It also shares the newest data sets along with links to fiscal, business and geographic data.
“Right now, there’s a particularly high importance placed on transparency and efficiency in public records because of the governor’s commitment to transparency and the Legislature’s interest in the cost of public records," Saunders said. "There’s been a lot of focus on it the last couple years."
Lately, users love learning about accredited health professionals (140,000 hits to date), water rights (15,000 hits) and licensed contractors (10,000 hits) — currently data.wa.gov's top three data sets.
Officials have made data publicly available for years, said Saunders, who points out that while the venerable Microsoft Excel spreadsheet is a data set, increasing data's depth and range can have "follow-on benefits" like making the state more business-friendly.
“From an economic development standpoint," he said, "having Washington be a transparent marketplace, finding out how many widgets there are in a particular region, makes Washington a more attractive marketplace."
Looking ahead to 2017, state officials hope to provide a high-level summary of agencies’ open data plans in a report to the Legislature, even as state departments continue interacting with the residents and agencies they serve.
Theo Douglas is a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.