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6 Things You May Not Know About Open Data

Palo Alto, Calif., CIO Jonathan Reichental says that despite the recent open data trend, governments have always been responsible for liberating data.

by / May 3, 2013
For Palo Alto, Calif., CIO Jonathan Reichental, the bulk of a CIO's time will be spent as the agency's tech expert and enabling business. Photo by Jessica Mulholland.

The open data movement is gaining momentum in the public sector. But while buzzwords like "open data" and "big data" are becoming commonplace, some uncertainties persist about what open data really means and its benefits the public.

So on Friday, May 3, Palo Alto, Calif., CIO Jonathan Reichental cleared up some of the confusion during the annual meeting for BayNet -- an multi-type library association consisting of professionals and librarians located in the San Francisco and the Bay Area -- held at the San Francisco Public Library .

In his keynote speech at the event, Reichental said that when it comes to making data more open, “The invisible becomes visible," and he outlined six major points that identify and define what open data really is:

1.  It's the liberation of peoples' data

The public sector collects data that pertains to government, such as employee salaries, trees or street information, and government entities are therefore responsible for liberating that data so the constituent can view it in an accessible format. Though this practice has become more commonplace in recent years, Reichental said government should have been doing this all along. 

2.  Data has to be consumable by a machine

Piecing data together from a spreadsheet to a website or containing it in a PDF isn't the easiest way to retrieve data. To make data more open, in needs to be in a readable format so users don't have to go through additional trouble of finding or reading it.

3.  Data has a derivative value

When data is made available to the public, people like app developers, architects or others are able to analyze the data. In some cases, data can be used in city planning to understand what's happening at the city scale.

4.  It eliminates the middleman

For many states, public records laws require them to provide data when a public records request is made. But oftentimes, complying with such request regulations involves long and cumbersome processes. Lawyers and other government officials must process paperwork, and it can take weeks to complete a request. By having data readily available, these processes can be eliminated, thus also eliminating the middleman responsible for processing the requests. Direct access to the data saves time and resources.

5.  Data creates deeper accountability

Since government is expected to provide accessible data, it is therefore being watched, making it more accountable for its actions -- everything from emails, salaries and city council minutes can be viewed by the public.

6.  Open Data builds trust

When the community can see what's going on in its government through the access of data, Reichtental said individuals begin to build more trust in their government and feel less like the government is hiding information.

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Sarah Rich

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. She wrote for for Government Technology magazine from 2010 through 2013.

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