Online Data Sets Could Spur Innovation in High-Tech Northwest

King County, Wash., council member pushes initiative that would require county agencies to publish data sets (crime stats, transit info, etc.) online by June 1.

by / February 8, 2010

Following in the digital footsteps of major cities like San Francisco and New York, King County, Wash., might start publishing public data online, giving citizens access to transit information, county park events, crime data and more.

This push comes from King County Council member Reagan Dunn, who last week introduced legislation that would require county agencies to publish "high value data sets" online by June 1. King County includes cities such as Seattle, Bellevue and Redmond, the home bases for Microsoft and Nintendo of America. Dunn believes giving people access to information like crime statistics and the wastewater treatment processes will spur innovation in the region.

"This legislation will literally allow the smartest people from Microsoft, Google, Amazon and others to use King County data in new and innovative ways," Dunn said in a statement. "In the process, our citizens get access to more information and our government becomes more accessible."

Dunn's proposal represents the latest in a string of initiatives across the country: From San Francisco's DataSF and the New York City Data Mine to Federal CIO Vivek Kundra's site, governments have been publishing data to try and connect with citizens. In innovation contests like Apps for Democracy and Apps for America, citizens use government data to create new applications.

Although Seattle is the county seat, the city government operates independently. Two years ago, the city launched a map on its Web site that highlights various data, such as crime stats and park information. The goal is to eventually publish data sets similar to, said Bill Schrier, Seattle's CIO. Any decision to merge data would have to be made by senior elected officials, but Schrier added that cooperation would make sense: Seattle has information on police and fire services and permits; King County has information on the jail, the courts and parcels of land.

"We have complementary data sets," Schrier said. "That's why it makes sense for us to work together."

In King County, the proposed legislation states that the data must be machine readable, available without restrictions in an "open format." Citizens will be able to access the data by computer or other mobile devices. The legislation now must be passed by the King County Council and signed by the Executive before it can move forward. According to Neil Strege, Dunn's chief of staff, there is no innovation contest planned yet, but with the data, Dunn believes "that people will come up with things that [the government] would never think of."

"The invention of cell phone applications and open source computer codes has caused an explosion of innovation," Dunn said. "Similarly the release of county data in an easy-to-use format will encourage people to develop applications that use county data in ways the county would never have considered."


Russell Nichols Staff Writer