Data Governance Council to Revamp Delaware's Open Data Efforts

An executive order signed by the governor will create a new council responsible for establishing a comprehensive open data plan within six months.

by / February 1, 2016
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Delaware is redoubling its open data efforts, Gov. Jack Markell announced Jan. 27. Through the signing of Executive Order 57, the governor mandated the creation of a Data Governance Council that will help executive branch agencies publish their data on the state’s open data portal.

“In today’s technology-driven world, we can do more to improve transparency by sharing non-identifiable public data in a format that is user friendly for members of the public seeking information,” Markell said in a press release. “The Delaware Open Data Portal offers this access in a central location and will facilitate better data sharing and collaboration across public agencies, nonprofits and the private sector to spur innovation and develop applications that can benefit our communities.”

The council is required to issue a public report within six months on its progress and a final plan for statewide open data integration by Sept. 30.

The council will be assembled by the Delaware Government Information Center and the state Department of Information Technology, which is led by CIO James Collins, who said the technology department is excited to have this critical executive backing on open data.

“I think one of the biggest challenges is helping people understand why this is important,” Collins explained. “ … and we think the executive order takes us a long way down that road.”

The initial sales pitch to agencies will be to explain how publishing open data can reduce the need to respond to common Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and facilitate data sharing between agencies that can lead to increased efficiency and efficacy, Collins said.

The state also wants to create a tool that will allow people to analyze data, and plot data over maps and charts, he said.

“Our approach is going to be to start with some of the low-hanging fruit,” Collins said. “There’s all types of state data dispersed throughout hundreds of websites throughout the state. As a starting point, we just want to try to pull all that information together into a single portal and publish that in dynamic formats.”

Today, Delaware’s open data portal is a Web page with a series of links to different data resources spread across departments and agencies, with no cohesive effort or organization. The new data portal the state intends to create will replace their existing portal, Collins said.

“We will start with things people are already familiar with and build on that,” he added. “In the next six months or so, we want to get a strong foundation in place by really modernizing and consolidating what’s already out there, so that I think is a good starting point for the conversation, when you start talking about what is the business value, what is the service value here?”

Delaware’s announcement is good news for open data in general and good news for the state’s chances of meeting its goal, said Stephen Larrick, open data project lead for the Sunlight Foundation.

“We’re happy to see a policy coming from the governor’s office that is going to be proactive on the release of public information,” Larrick said. “This is, at a macro level, definitely in line with what the Sunlight Foundation advocates for in terms of transparency and accountability. We see open data policy as the next iteration of freedom of information, so we’re happy to see another state thinking along those same lines.”

That the executive order establishes a council responsible for forming an open data plan bodes well for the state’s effort, he said, adding that it ensures accountability and structure that’s been absent in similar announcements elsewhere.

The public is an important part of the open data movement, and Larrick said he hopes the council accounts for that during the next six months.

“The point of open data is decentralizing information holdings in a way that is empowering to the public, and we would hope and advocate for opportunities for public involvement in any sort of open data initiative that this executive order helps to create,” he said. “We hope there’s a chance for public input and public feedback channels such as FOIA requests or a public inventory process can be a part of the initiative itself.”

Colin Wood former staff writer

Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.