Civic Awesome: Open Data in the News for the Week of May 4, 2015

May 8, 2015 10:05 am PST | Data as a Service

The full spectrum of open data was on display this week. In Nepal, humanitarian efforts get a boost from open data, while South Africa looks to transparency as an antidote to corruption. Around the world, artists and designers play with data in ways that make hackers sit up and listen. Also: Ontario prizes citizen engagement, and California tries to clean its data closet. 

Saving Lives in Nepal with Open Data

Great intentions combine with a sleek user interface and solid data management in the Humanitarian Data Exchange, better known as HDX. Launched last year by the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the design firm Frog, the platform, “helps disparate humanitarian organizations work together,” says Mark Wilson in Fast Company. Datasets, “can be downloaded in standardized, editable file formats,” and, “any approved organization can upload its data to share,” Wilson explains. He quotes Justine Mackinnon, president of Standby Taskforce: “With HDX, everything goes into one format, gets put on the platform, and it’s accessed by everyone.”

Ontario Puts Citizen Engagement First

With 400 datasets and more to come, Ontario’s Open Government Initiative continues to fuel “Ontario’s commitment to being the most open and transparent government in Canada,” says the Treasury Board Secretariat in a recent press release. The province has posted a draft Open Data Directive for public comment, “to make sure it reflects the needs and input of Ontarians.” The directive responds to recommendations of the Open Government Engagement Team, and mirrors previous efforts in the province to connect with citizens – including allowing the public to help prioritize which datasets to open first.

What Can Transparency Do for South Africans?

“Open data is perhaps the most effective way we have to ensure that the power inherent in the possession of large amounts of data is made honest,” reflect the editors of Transparency can reduce corruption by making sure governments properly allocate resources, and can boost accountability by tracking performance and outcomes in government agencies. “When you are not afraid to have the numbers out there for people to see, then you most certainly don’t have anything to hide.” The article prompts South Africans to build transparency locally, with a list of questions connected to data’s impact on their daily lives. For example, “Are the clinics in my area fully furnished with all the equipment they need?” and “Do the dams in the area I live in have any environmental issues?”

Organizing California’s Data

“Local government employees and the constituents they serve often don’t know what types of data agencies collect or where to find it,” comments Alexandra Bjerg in Senator Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) hopes to address the data management side of the problem with SB 272. The bill would require local government agencies in California to create inventories of their data management systems, including any vendor and product names. Robb Korinke of CA Fwd believes, “SB 272 will reveal how accessible and usable this information is for analysis by other public agencies and the general public.”

The Sound of Openness

“What if you could listen to your city’s data, instead of just staring at it?” asks Aarian Marshall in Volunteers with the Sense Your City contest installed sensors around San Francisco, Boston, Rio de Janeiro, Geneva, Bangalore, Singapore, and Shanghai, to record data on pollution, dust, light, sound, temperature, and humidity. Then the organizers opened the data, “and asked artists and designers to use it to do … something,” reports Marshall. Three contestants were selected. Marshall recommends Kasper Fangel Skov’s “sonic particles 2.0,” an audio entry, “that reflects the constantly updated environmental data set.”


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