Making open data meaningful.

Tags: Data, Open, Mapping, GIS, Software, technology, Maps

Over the past few years, we've seen more and more governments embrace the open data movement. Until recently, that has simply meant making authoritative government data available online for public consumption. The goal was to increase transparency and engage citizens; and that was a good first step.

Now a new phase in this movement is under way. Governments are working to give that data more meaning through context, so that the data can spur innovation, form connections, and ultimately lead to action.

Mapping applications driven by geographic information system (GIS) technology have proven to be particularly effective in providing context to data that would otherwise be seen in a spreadsheet. Vast amounts of information become easier to interpret when viewed in a map. It turns out that when it comes to analyzing big data, location can be just as significant a factor as it is in real estate. Location is the universal attribute. Because everything is located somewhere and in relation to something, smart maps based on GIS data have emerged as the grand unifier across governance and business.

After all, data without context is just noise. Here are four ways to deliver more meaningful open data that strengthens return on investment and provides greater value to people inside and outside of government.

1.) Open Data Internally and Externally

Citizens, such as entrepreneurs, researchers, and journalists, certainly need government data to do their work, but government employees benefit from it too. The key is providing one resource where people can find the data they need. A web GIS platform can be utilized to find open data, access the city's GIS tools, and collaborate with peers. When government staff know where they can go to access data and contribute their information, it breaks down internal silos and sets up an environment conducive to exchanging ideas. This enables a surge in data-driven decision-making that supports safe, livable, and smart community programs.

2.) Launch Apps for Immediate Use

After data is made available, make it easy to use. Launching apps that consume open data immediately shows people the value of the data. A few examples would be apps which show a map of construction and permit activities that are under way and coming soon including timelines; an index which shows the cleanliness of streets in the city, from clean to somewhat clean and not clean; a map which shows roadwork completed over time, starting from a certain year; and safety map which details the city's data-driven road safety policy.

In addition to demonstrating what's possible with open data, apps invite people to engage with government. This could include people closely exploring road safety datasets. Citizens getting involved with reporting illegal dumping and volunteering for cleanups and sharing ideas for putting the data to use, such as preventing illegal dumping and effectively deploying trash bins.

3.) Provide Context through Story Maps

Story maps are applications that combine interactive maps with multimedia—photos, videos, audio, and text—to tell place-based stories. This format gives governments a way to walk people through the data in one, clean, intuitive app.

Its a way to ensure public access to critical public safety information. It could also shows a map of violent crime by census tract, explaining that police efforts are focused accordingly; the map helps the police prioritize their work.

Other maps in the story map address important issues such as pedestrian stops as well as shooting incidents across the city. Apps like this encourage citizens to evaluate data in its proper context.

This approach supports transparency and accountability while also strengthening communication.

4.) Offer Training and Developer Resources

One of the biggest changes in the evolution of open data is educating the public. Taking the time to create short online videos gives the general public valuable information on how they can use open data. Tutorials can also generate ideas for application development, which in turn, increases a government's return on open data investments.

Different categories of data on offer include base data, demographic data, public safety data, but it also shows the data that's trending and how-to videos. A how to video could show people how they can use open data to locate potential customers, find vacant commercial sites, and discover restaurants along a commute?

This emerging, holistic approach to delivering open data brings more people into the open data fold. Open data is no longer just for people who have deep technical expertise. Anyone can find government data, watch a tutorial on how to make use of it, peruse some apps for inspiration, and start using the data he or she is interested in. This workflow drives a culture of innovation and allows more people to contribute to building smart communities: citizen engagement at its best.