Freely accessible government data helps the public stay more engaged with their communities and keeps government more accountable.
Corporations are also taking advantage of open data. Zillow is powered in part by freely available open government data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, and the Census Bureau. It is helping families make informed decisions about buying a home and where to raise a family.
Overcoming technical hurdles to making data open
What makes many of these projects successful is the availability of open data APIs. Agencies are creating open data APIs to give developers access to their data, but in many cases they have not created a platform or portal providing access to their APIs and data.
Therein lies a significant challenge -- one the White House is hoping to address with technical guidance to help agencies understand how to make more data accessible to the public in machine-readable formats.
To make data open and available to the public, agencies need to create and maintain an enterprise data inventory and a public data listing. However, agencies must keep in mind that several open data initiatives involve personally identifiable information, which must be removed to accommodate the security and privacy of citizens before it is made available.
The last and final objective outlined within the Obama administration's open data guidance is to clarify roles and responsibilities for promoting efficient and effective data release. This goal addresses perhaps one of the most significant challenges agencies will face as they embark on their open data initiatives: ensuring privacy.
Agencies must create "access level" categories that assign information access rules and algorithms based on decisions already made within an agency about whether data assets can be made public. They should place stricter guidelines around the label of "public" and how that translates to what types of information can be made public. Data assets within an open data initiative can be released to the public only after a full analysis of privacy, confidentiality, and security.
The public deserves open data
Ultimately, the benefits of open data outweigh the challenges. By putting the tools in the hands of the public to search, correlate, and visualize data, governments can make vast stores of previously unavailable data accessible, usable, and valuable to those who deserve to have access to it.
A government is held accountable to its citizens. Open data is the key to improving relationships between government and its constituents.
Bethann Pepoli is responsible for developing state and local government and K-12 education business for Splunk. She previously served as the deputy CIO at the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Moving email to the cloud has lowered IT costs and improved efficiency. Find out what federal agencies can learn from early adopters. Also in the The Great Email Migration issue of InformationWeek Government: Lessons from a successful government data site (free registration required).