Civic Awesome: Open Data in the News for the Week of June 22, 2015

June 26, 2015 12:00 pm PST | Data as a Service

Can open data help feed the world? The UK thinks so. Also: Open data takes the bus in Annapolis, Durham opens its data doors, and governments get tasked with more than simple transparency.

Feeding the UK: Giant Data Giveaway

More than 8,000 datasets will be made freely available to the public over the next year by the UK’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs. In a speech published on, Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss states the data will enable citizens who make their living from farming and the environment “to think big, to take risks, and build profitable businesses.” New datasets will include information on soil conditions and crop health from the Copernicus satellite system. The massive data release will also provide “real-time air quality and river level readings, beach cleanliness measurements, and the records of the National Biodiversity Network.”

Transit Tools Get Riders on Board

Small transit agencies don’t have big IT departments, notes Jaime McKay in If they don’t have resources to utilize opportunities like the open source, Google-generated General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS), then they don’t have enough information online to entice new riders. But now, GTFS Builder, created by the FTA’s National Rural Transit Assistance Program, is helping Annapolis, Maryland, and other small and midsize communities digitize their transit data. GTFS Builder compiles “schedules, routes, and fares, and processes them into GTFS files” through a simple set of Excel workbooks, explains McKay. The interactive, online transit information “can encourage new people to try transit,” states McKay.

Durham Launches New Portal

Open Durham, a new open government portal, launched with nearly 200 datasets and maps in 10 categories. It provides information ranging “from North Carolina school performance to Durham bicycle trails,” reports the The City of Durham and Durham County collaborated on Open Durham, sharing costs and preventing duplication, explains Durham County Chief Information Officer Greg Marrow. The portal also connects citizens to state and federal datasets. Kerry Goode, City of Durham Chief Information Officer, adds, “While there are many personal and professional uses, we hope it will also lead to more resident participation, which will ultimately strengthen our community.”

Transparency’s Nice, But: Data as a Service

Transparency “is more about pushing information to the public than collaborating with citizens,” comments Katie Burke in She adds that while governments of course need to be transparent, they also need to use open data to build interactive relationships with the public. “In the public sector, Skagit County, Washington, is a leader in collaborative open government,” she continues. One of the county’s most popular apps lets citizens access accurate, updated real estate data via their smartphones. “The application is used by real estate agents, banks and even pizza delivery services,” Burke states, showing how when governments provide data as a service, citizens can take creative action. The challenge for governments, Burke explains, “will be branding and marketing the services they provide.”

Tracking Connecticut’s Tax Dollars

Tyler Kleykamp, Connecticut’s chief data officer, “believes we’re all data people, regardless of our coding or technology skills,” says Caitlin Fairchild in Kleykamp started his state’s open data movement to uncover “how businesses received state money through tax credits, loans and grants,” Fairchild says. The insight into the data showed government and the public how distributing tax dollars to the private sector was benefitting the state of Connecticut. Kleykamp believes open data is vital to developing programs, refining policies, and measuring performance. “We’re going to consistently be asked to do more with less, in government,” he asserts. “We have to find ways to be efficient to be more effective.”




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