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Open Data Is Here. But What Data Do Governments Publish?

The vast majority of states and local governments now offer open data in one form or another. Looking through the data sets on perhaps the most popular open data host, we found out what they’re publishing.

A key inserted into a lock surrounded by circles of code.
These days, the vast majority of state and local governments have implemented some kind of open data system to share government data resources with developers and the public at large.

In 2021, 95.4 percent of cities surveyed by the Center for Digital Government (CDG)* reported that they had some kind of open data project, with the remaining 4.6 percent planning on implementing one. Counties were a little less likely to have some kind of open data publishing, with 86.9 percent reporting an open data project in 2021. In 2020, every single state either had an open data project or was implementing one.

But what data gets published when cities and states “open” their data? How do people engage with that data? To find out, Government Technology used the Socrata Open Data API to look at about 55,000 data assets published by 336 U.S. state and local governments — an average of 163 assets per publisher. Socrata was purchased by Tyler Technologies in 2018, and subsequently renamed to Data & Insights.
The platform is immensely popular, with cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles publishing data through it, as well as at least 17 states.

Though Data & Insights can host several types of data, the most common type at the local level is tabular data sets like spreadsheets. About 55 percent of data sets uploaded by state and local governments use a categorization system from Tyler to indicate what the data relates to.

These categorizations suggest that finance data is the most common data published by state and local governments, but it’s not the majority — only about 13.9 percent is in the finance category. Other popular categories include infrastructure with 10.9 percent and demographics with 10.5 percent.

But those are not necessarily the data sets most interesting to the public. The platform tracks the number of views of each data set. Government Technology examined the 100 most popular data assets, based on the number of views they had ever received and their average views per year.

The most popular data set, with more than 7.1 million total views, was the regularly updated list of active calls to the Dallas Police Department. The data set with the highest average annual views was a COVID-19 dashboard published by the Connecticut Department of Public Health.
Other types of data that drew attention included data on code enforcement and public works projects.

Most open data doesn’t reach that kind of popularity. Government Technology identified 255 data assets that reached more than 1 million lifetime views out of roughly 55,000 total assets. Ninety percent of all data assets were viewed fewer than 2,200 times in their entire life.

The lifespan of open data is another question for people tasked with managing the public’s access to government data.

Of the entire corpus of data on the platform, about one quarter, 26 percent, of all data assets have never been updated. Of the data sets that have been updated, the average time between creation and their last update is 29 months, about two and a half years. The majority, 62.7 percent, of these updated data sets have not been updated this year.

Editor's note: Tyler Technologies rebranded Socrata after acquiring it. This article has been updated to reflect the new name.

*The Center for Digital Government is part of e.Republic, Government Technology's parent company.
Andrew Adams is a data reporter for Government Technology. He holds a bachelor’s degree in communication from the Illinois Institute of Technology and a master’s degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield.