Open government data can drive a lot of value for citizens — from innovation and entrepreneurial startups to cost savings, building public trust and creating transparency. A McKinsey & Company report last year estimated the value of open data to the economy at more than $3 billion. In spite of that promise, only nine states have formal policies for open data via adopted legislation or executive orders.
But it doesn’t mean that states aren’t moving down the open data path in meaningful ways. At least 24 states, including California, have open data policies using a less formal route than legislation or executive order. As many have open data portals, although they are not necessarily the same states.
Most, if not all, of the individual data sets accessible on states’ open data portals would not be considered “big data” by current popular definition. Nevertheless, combining the data could yield very large data sets. Indeed, combining data sets could lead to interesting, rich and meaningful analysis of programs, operations and outcomes that have not yet been conceived.
But combining data is not a slam dunk. Much of the data that would be combined is not “interoperable,” which means that data definitions and formats don’t match easily and prevent much of the data from being combined. Application programming interfaces (APIs) are likely to solve many of these difficulties in the coming years, but they are not ubiquitously available now.
The federal government has been moving in the direction of “open” and “interoperable” for several years. If you haven’t heard about the federal Homeland Security’s Information Sharing Environment (ISE), it’s likely you will soon. The ISE was established in 2004 to enable and encourage people, projects, systems and agencies to share information responsibly for national security. Now, through a unanimously approved standard set of Identity and Authorization Attributes for exchanging user identities across networks and organizations, justice information is much more commonly available across jurisdictions.
Much of the ISE data is classified as sensitive and is not open or public for reasons of national defense. But the processes that have been used to achieve ISE’s success thus far promise important utility for other sectors like Health and Human Services, often the largest portion of a state’s budget.
The federal Health and Human Services (HHS) agency has jumped on the ISE bandwagon and has embraced some of the ISE standards as a way to facilitate responsibly sharing the mountains of data being generated by providers, diagnostics instruments, pharmacy-related technology and consumer transactions. HHS is building the ISE’s National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) into the Federal Health Architecture.
Look for more activity in the “standards” space for HHS in terms of “open” and “interoperable.” The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), is predicting an incremental approach to achieving interoperability in health and human services. In October, the ONC revealed “early strategic elements” of a draft 10-year road map for achieving an interoperable health IT infrastructure. The final version is due in spring 2015.
States also have significant concerns about vendor behavior that limits interoperability, a position that suggests certification criteria may not be far away. In terms of sharing data across systems, states have consistently advocated for the federal government to adopt a “guard rail” with health-care providers and the health information technology industry.
Shell Culp, former agency information officer for the California Health and Human Services Agency, is the chief innovation officer for the Stewards of Change Institute.
This story was originally published by TechWire.