Civic Awesome: Open Data in the News for March 30, 2015

April 3, 2015 8:01 am PST | Data as a Service

From fire safety in the Big Easy to the controlled and highly profitable world of insurance data, advocates for open government are on the move. This week also showed the economic and moral need for open health care data, how calculus can provide a great ice-breaker for transparency talks, and why California needs to get organized.

Fight Fire with Data

Now that New Orleans has done it, it seems obvious: use open data to detect which neighborhoods are the most likely to have fires and the least likely to have smoke alarms. Then, give free smoke alarms to the citizens in those areas. In, Colin Wood captures the people factor in this success story. New Orleans fire chief Timothy McConnell wanted to reach at-risk citizens and at-risk structures with the city’s longtime smoke alarm giveaway program. That vision became the inaugural effort of NOLAlytics, a new city analytics initiative helmed by Oliver Wise. Donated expertise from analytics guru Mike Flowers of gave life to the project: “Because New Orleans had the right leadership environment, it seemed to be well worth my time and the time of my staff to give them a hand.” 

Action Call: Health Care Transparency

Both sides of the political aisle should recognize the value of access to transparent information about health care providers, institutions, and costs, stated Leah Binder in She called such transparency, “the ‘secret sauce’ for any successful effort to improve health care quality.” Advocates for consumers and businesses have a long wish list of health care data they believe should be open, including surgeons’ track records, hospital nursing staff levels, and rates of misdiagnoses and unnecessary procedures. “Consumers entrust their lives to the health care industry,” Binder emphasized, “and we are entitled to know how the system really works.”

Calculate Open Data’s ROI

“Just opening data to meet requirements doesn’t mean the data will be useful,” state Stephanie Kanowitz in To help government agencies start talking about which datasets are worth opening, two techies from New York University’s Governance Lab, CTO Arnaud Sahuguet and research fellow David Sangokoya, created an open data ROI equation. “This is not the formula that is going to revolutionize the field of open data,” Sahuguet emphasized. “We really want to open the conversation.” Reception to the formula has been positive, including Belgium’s use of it in an open data day. Overall, said Sangokoya, government agency workers have said it gave form to the ideas they had in mind.

Open California? Three Reasons Why 

The Golden State needs an open data plan, said a recent report by the Milken Institute, a nonprofit think tank . As Alex Woodie reported in, the study’s authors predicted three major benefits. First, a statewide plan would fan entrepreneurial fires in California’s 132 corporations that rank in the Open Data 500. Second, a standardization of transparency would give a deserved break to journalists and citizens, who currently navigate multiple open data models of the state’s major cities and regions. Third, the private sector would welcome the resulting streamlining of regulations in this red-tape rich state. The report’s authors estimated, “it would cost California just $4 million to $5 million to pay for the staffing required to develop, implement, and manage a fully functioning open-data policy.” 

It’s Time: Open Data in Insurance

“Granting a monopoly to a private organization on the collection and sale of what properly should be public records,” wrote Ray Lehmann in Insurance Journal, “simply has no basis in reality.” Yet, he stated, public insurance data is controlled and sold by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), a private membership group of public officials. Lehmann contended the data, “could and should be made available by the Treasury Department’s Federal Insurance Office,” and demonstrated precedent: The SEC similarly resisted making public filings free and accessible online, and bemoaned the costs and obstacles involved. Then the Internet Multicasting Service, “with a donated computer and a National Science Foundation grant,” created the necessary platform for the project, which the SEC took over within two years.




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