California attempting to create an open data portal for the whole state

Feb 23, 2016

Statistics 2.jpgIt would appear that California is attempting to make a more transparent government by creating an open data portal for the entire state. This portal would put multi-agency data under a single umbrella, allowing the Golden State's citizens to have an in-depth look at what kind of information has been collected by each department. 

An article by Government Technology contributor Jason Shueh reported that while the state already has an open data portal, it looks incredibly bad and sends the user to massive data sets rather than simply giving him or her the information. With so much effort being put into what is basically a redo, it's important to know what open data is and why it's such a hot topic right now. 

What is open data?

Open data itself is information that can be freely accessed and used for a multitude of purposes. An open data portal, then, would be a gateway that would allow the average citizen the unique opportunity to receive this information. The modern digital age has allowed for a massive amount of data to be be collected, but until recently this information was impossible to be reached. 

That said, there is another level of open data that must be discussed. A different Government Technology article also written by Shueh talks about the fact that open data has two separate requirements: The information must be technically open and legally open. 

  • Technically open: This is the stipulation that the data must be accessible by any citizen with a computer and Internet access. Emily Shaw, the national policy manager at the open-data proponent Sunlight Foundation, uses Microsoft Office as an example. If a data set were to be given over Microsoft Excel, this information would not be considered technically open, as those without this program could not access it. 
  • Legally open: This requirement states that the information must be usable by commercial and non-commercial entities without any sort of restrictions on its use. A data set only contain points that would be relevant to accountants, but the government cannot stipulate that only accountants can access it. 

As you can see, simply making the information freely accessible to citizens isn't going far enough. This data needs to quite literally be accessible by any person at any time from anywhere. Although this is cumbersome business, there are many advantages to having free and open data for all to view. 

"Among the benefits of open data are improved measurement of policies, better government efficiency, deeper analytical insights, greater citizen participation, and a boost to local companies by way of products and services that use government data," said Shueh in the second article. 

How is it different from big data?

While the names sound very similar, it is important to note that open data is not the same as the concept of big data. They are somewhat similar, but the differences between the two bear emphasis. Big data is basically just large sets of information that are compiled for later review and analysis of larger trends. Generally, big data is kept within the organization that has collected it. 

Open data is certainly available for analysis and interpretation, but it's important to note the implications of allowing this information to be viewed by the public. Aside from allowing for a level trust between government agencies and citizens, open data enables multiple people to tackle a problem. It's more of a community-based effort, where many separate individuals or organizations can pull whatever conclusions they find from the data at hand. 

While both of these are incredibly important to the future of analytics, open data will hopefully enable a larger push toward transparency. Allowing citizens to utilize data collected by the government lets them realize the government isn't the big, scary bogeyman many of them believe it to be, while also giving them the opportunity to do something with the data at hand.