Location provides a common context through which we can compare different domains of data in order to understand complex relationships. Government agencies gather this data as part of their mission and daily operations – but no one cares as much about their neighborhood as the people who live there. By making this data available to the public, we have a unique opportunity to leverage the local expertise to understand, analyze, and act on the issues that affect communities.
Growing over the past 7 years, open data has become a goal with increasing support and validation. Most recently the US Congress has passed laws directing the government to standardize and publish data for increased transparency. Internationally there is also increasing government adoption.
Nuances of Open Data
There are common principles and patterns that have been developed by the community to clarify the important aspects of open data. Accessible, Complete, Authoritative, and Timely are a few of these common principles.
While there is a tremendous opportunity, there are still many challenges for government agencies to sustainably and effectively make their data accessible to the public. Historically these sites are custom built, require burdensome data migration and subsequently have a limited lifetime resulting in lack of utilization and validation.
Preview of ArcGIS Open Data
Our community works across nearly all levels of government, edges of the globe and domains of knowledge. They currently leverage ArcGIS to manage, update and publish their authoritative data both internally as well as to the web. In a recent discussion with a local government, they pointed out that 70% of their open data catalog came directly from the GIS department. So why should they have to export and migrate their data in order to make it available to citizens?
Instead, we considered how to keep data at its source, within existing workflows and make it easy – indeed transparent – to make this data open and accessible. This is required if we are to accomplish the principles of open data where the data are authoritative and also up-to-date. By connecting directly to the source we ensure that the open data continues just to be the data, made open.
Today at the FedGIS conference we previewed Esri’s new open data initiative. We are adding capabilities to ArcGIS Online that enable any organization to quickly configure a custom view of their public items and open data groups. We built on the existing web services hosted online, on-premise, or through other data services to provide an easy to use interface that is designed for the open data community. Open Data has been part of Esri for years – this initiative means to make it easier and focused on the community.
Based on our experience, both as citizens, and open data developers, we focused on three key capabilities:
- Discoverable users need simple search and recommendations for finding and following relevant data
- Explorable right away people should be able to see a linked map and table view with the ability to filter geographically or by any attribute
- Accessible one-click download as common data formats and developer API’s
These capabilities are coming this spring and will be included for ArcGIS Online. You can start today by publishing your web services as public items and creating open data groups in preparation for launching your own open data sites.
Future of Open Data
These new capabilities aim to remove, or at least mitigate, the technology question of open data publishing. Data owners can leverage their existing infrastructure and web services without having to migrate and update data. This makes initiatives far more sustainable.
However the policy and processes remain difficult questions to resolve. Many agencies are still dealing with historic policies of cost recovery or concerns of releasing their data for public consumption. These are improving, and as more government datasets come online the validation and examples will accelerate adoption.
We believe that through this initiative and working with you that open data will increase by an order of magnitude, dramatically improving citizen engagement and government collaboration.