Sharing Government Data in a Way it Can Be Useful for Everyone

Sharing Government Data in a Way it Can Be Useful for Everyone

There’s no Statue of Liberty (yet) welcoming government data to the Home of the Free and the Land of the Brave. But if there was, this might be the inscription on it. The rise of the Internet and the demand for more open government has resulted in initiatives such as the U.S. government’s Data.gov database sharing site. To cite just a few examples, with this data: Businesses can use Census data on housing, income and education to better plan everything from store locations to hiring, sales and production. Consumers can track the status of product recalls, government rankings of health care providers or crime rates when looking for housing. Citizen or advocacy groups can track the status of legislation, government contracts and political contributions. Investors, planners, policymakers and interest groups can use economic information such as gross national product to measure economic growth, and better plan government and public investment and economic policies. To meet the rising demand for data and government “transparency,” as of 2012 at least forty-three governments and international organizations worldwide have made more than one million data sets available, in areas ranging from education to health, energy and commerce. Not Just Data: Insights But pre-chosen subsets of data from a government agency are just snippets of reality. They may not contain all the data a user may need or present it in an easily usable format. These partial data sets in unusable formats make it difficult, if not impossible, to combine different forms of data in creative ways. It is such “mashups” that unleash insights from data, allowing users to answer new questions in new and unpredictable ways. Using “mashups,” for example: Citizen advocates can overlap emissions and weather data on maps to identify sources of pollution for remedial action. The unemployed can use the Employment Market Explorer app, a Google Maps mashup, to compare unemployment rates among communities. Home buyers can view a database of crime by type before choosing a neighborhood in which to     look for a home. Parents in Chicago can assess their child’s chances of getting into a selective public school based on their address. Consumers can check the quality ratings of care facilities before choosing a provider for an aging parent. Health care providers, vaccine producers or payers can track disease outbreaks in real time. Economists can use financial databases to build sophisticated models to forecast market prices and employment levels....

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