Home > Public Domain Data > An Open Letter to the Open Data Community: Reaction

An Open Letter to the Open Data Community: Reaction

A group of people at the Civic Analytics Network recently wrote “An Open Letter to the Open Data Community” that focuses on topics central to this blog and to our book. The Civics Analytics Network, is “a consortium of Chief Data Officers and analytics principals in large cities and counties throughout the United States.”  They state that their purpose is to “work together to advance how local governments use data to be more efficient, innovative, and in particular, transparent.”

The letter contained 8 guidelines the group believed that if followed, would “advance the capabilities of government data portals across the board and help deliver upon the promise of a transparent government.”  The guidelines included the following:

  1.  Improve accessibility and usability to engage a wider audience. 
  2. Move away from a single dataset centric view.
  3. Treat geospatial data as a first class data type.
  4. Improve management and usability of metadata. 
  5. Decrease the cost and work required to publish data. 
  6. Introduce revision history.
  7. Improve management of large datasets.
  8. Set clear transparent pricing based on memory, not number of datasets.

It is difficult to imagine a letter that is more germane to what we have been advocating on the Spatial Reserves blog.  We have been open about our praise of data portals that are user friendly–and critical of those that miss the mark–over the past five years.  We have noted the impact that the open data movement has had on the data portals themselves–becoming in many cases more user friendly and encouraging adoption of GIS beyond its traditional departmental boundaries.  The principles we have adhered to are also mentioned in this letter, such as being intuitive, data-driven, and with metrics.  The letter highlights a continued need, the ability to tie together and compare related data sets, which is at times challenging given “data silos.”

One of my favorite points in the letter is the authors’ admonition to “treat geospatial data as a first class data type.”  The authors claim that geospatial data is an underdeveloped and undervalued asset; and it “needs to be an integral part of any open data program”, citing examples from Chicago’s OpenGrid and Los Angeles’ GeoHub as forward-thinking models.

On the topic of metadata, the authors call for portals and managers to allow “custom metadata schemes, API methods to define and update the schema and content, and user interfaces that surface and support end-user use of the metadata.”  Hear, hear!  Equally welcome is the authors’ call to decrease the cost and work required to publish data. Through their point #6 about revision history, they advocate that these data sets need to be curated and updated but also allow historical versions to be accessed.

What are your reactions to this letter?  What do we need to do as the geospatial community to realize these aims?

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  1. Margaret Maginnis
    April 11, 2017 at 3:48 pm

    I think open data is a powerful idea, but I question the ability to vet the data, keep it updated, ano Anomalies noted and the integrity of the data maintained. This is crucial to the effort to use data as citizens and make wise choices. But the acquisition of the data, its maintenance and vetting are the backend and tedious parts of the equation. Who will be accountable for this in a sustainable cohesive manner?

    Sent from Margaret Maginnis

    >

    • josephkerski
      April 11, 2017 at 4:58 pm

      Very true Margaret! Thanks for commenting. Your points are good ones, which is in part why we spend so much time in this blog writing about data quality and curation. Once it is online … who will curate it? Will their organization support whoever is tasked with data curation? What if that person changes jobs – what will happen to the data?

      –Joseph Kerski

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