What Open Data Looks Like to the Rest of Us: Examples of Government Data in Use

Government 2.0
Location: 1A24 Level:
Average rating: *****
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More government data is being opened up and made more accessible, but what does this mean? And what does it look like? This session will demo and discuss four examples of government data being used to provide valuable information to the public that previously wasn’t accessible.

The first two examples use data made available by the Washington, DC government, which is emerging as a leader in open government data. In November 2008 the city made more than 200 real-time data streams available to the public as part of their “Apps for Democracy” contest, a city-sponsored competition that asked local web developers to analyze the city’s data and build web applications around it that DC residents would find useful. Think of it like an “Iron Chef” competition for websites, using data sets including DC’s Crime Reports or Liquor Licenses and GIS data like Road Polygons, Water Polygons, Bike Lanes, and Metro Stations.

The contest worked. The Apps for Democracy contest yielded an estimated 4000% return on investment for the city 1, and the winning sites demonstrate the value to governments of opening up their data for easier public use. The session will show two of the winning applications in some detail to help illustrate the real and (often times) unexpected value that open data present to a community. DC Bikes 2 and StumbleSafely 3 respectively help DC residents find the best way to bike to work and the safest way to walk home at the end of the night from their local bar. These extremely niched websites leverage esoteric data elements in practical combinations to help meet real needs of residents, and they provide great illustrations of the kind of possibilities that exist for using open data.

Next to be discussed is a website by the New America Foundation that opened up the largest set of public data on the U.S. public education system 4. The website makes available data on all 14,000 public school districts in the United States, maps this data, and allows you to drill down to see how a particular school district stacks up to others.

Finally the session will delve into how USAID and international development agencies are helping each other in their work to end poverty by opening their data up and sharing valuable GIS data. An example of this in action that will be highlighted is how the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization made it’s maps of Africa available to the open source tool Open Street Maps, therefore making them available to humanitarian relief and other organizations around the world 5.

This session will be led by Eric Gundersen, president of Development Seed, whose organization built these websites and projects.

1 http://www.istrategylabs.com/apps-for-democracy-yeilds-4000-roi-in-30-days-for-dcgov/
2 http://www.outsideindc.com/bikes
3 http://www.stumblesafely.com/
4 http://febp.newamerica.net/
5 http://www.developmentseed.org/blog/2009/apr/22/thousands_of_miles_added_open_street_map

Photo of Allan Holmes

Allan Holmes


Allan Holmes is Executive Editor at Government Executive, joining Executive Editors Tom Shoop and Anne Laurent in the senior management of the enterprise. Holmes has been CIO’s Washington Bureau Chief since 2004.
He was editor in chief of Federal Computer Week magazine and FCW.com from January 2001 to August 2003, and FCW editor and managing editor prior to that. He developed, launched and managed the award-winning daily news site, FCW.com. During his nearly nine years at FCW, the magazine and web site won more than three dozen awards, including Folio Magazine’s Best Government Publication and first-place awards from the American Society of Business Press Editors for Best Government Coverage and Best Overall Web Publication.
Holmes also served as editorial director for events and new projects at FCW Media Group. This included running FCW’s Government CIO Summit, and managing research projects that measure the effectiveness of government management reforms, governance issues, the interaction between electronic government and the public, and other topics. In an earlier project, he oversaw an expansive joint study with the Pew Internet and American Life Project on the federal government’s increasing use of the Internet to sell goods and services to the public. Holmes has covered health care, business issues and state government, and has written for The New York Times, Time magazine, U.S. News and World Report and Government Executive. He has a journalism degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a master’s degree in Public Policy from Duke University.

Eric Gundersen

Development Seed

Eric is President of Development Seed, an online strategy shop in Washington, DC that specializes in building tools with open source software for international development agencies. Eric has developed communications strategies and tools for organizations around the world, ranging from international development organizations to major media outlets. Recently he has been mapping food security projects in Africa, developing the intranet at the World Bank for their international communications team, and building decentralized data collection tools to survey public health organizations’ capacity to respond to bird flu outbreak on the ground in Southeast Asia.

Eric’s interest in effective communications and background in international development has led him to develop news tracking and aggregation tools, SMS and mobile applications, and most recently mapping solutions and data visualizations. He uses his technical experience and international development background to lead projects for development agencies like the United Nations, the World Food Programme, IFPRI, InterAction, and Human Rights Watch. His work has landed him on NPR discussing open data, in the Washington Post discussing mobile campaign tools, and on Nightline talking about culture jamming.

Recently, Eric’s focus has turned to opening up data and making it truly accessible through standards, online tools, and powerful visualizations. One recent project he led with the New America Foundation opened up data on all 14,000 U.S. school districts. Eric has also become a frequent speaker on open data, giving talks at O’Reilly’s Where 2.0 conference, the Open Government on the Internet conference, and DrupalCon, an open source developers conference.

Eric earned his Masters Degree in International Development from American University in Washington, DC. He co-founded Development Seed while researching technology access and microfinance in Peru.

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