The Guardian Debates: How Should Councils Use Open Data

March 6, 2014 5:00 am PST | Data as a Service, Effective Governing

The Guardian hosted a debate around how councils should plan to use open data. Socrata Vice President of Product, Safouen Rabah, was invited to participate. Rabah was excited to share what Socrata has learned from partnering with innovative local governments around the world, who are are using their data creatively to solve real-world problems. 

In this blog post, we highlight a few of the questions that came out of that debate and offer the tools to which Rabah referred in a few of his answers. 

To read the full debate and learn about every participant, check out the comments on this post. 

Question One: How are councils currently using data and are they making the most of it? 

Rabah’s response: As long data is being published predominantly as downloadable data files (CSV), very few people can actually make use of it. Everyday citizens consume data every day on the web, because it’s easy, contextual and friendly. Government data needs to be every bit as easy as navigating Google or Facebook.

To learn more, see the chapter on the citizen experience in our Open Data Field Guide. Implementing an effective strategy for turning data into information that everyone can use and contextualize is much easier when you have the right tools. 

Question Two: What lessons can be learned from abroad/councils who are successful in this area?

For this question, Rabah suggests looking to the example set by Chicago. Mark Barrett, co-founder of Leeds Data Thing and an open data lead in Leeds, agrees. “Chicago is certainly a model that I’m aspiring to from here in Leeds,” he says, referencing the City’s commitment to “doing constant, amazing work that brings people together to tackle real city.” 

As Rabah explains, the approach that we at Socrata have seen work very well is to design the right experience. We employ various strategies, including:

– Easy to use visualization tools that allow people to see the data as charts, maps, and filter it based on their context
– Easy to create Dashboards to present performance data
– Single-purpose apps, often built by the developer community, that deliver a consumer web quality experience

Question Three: What’s holding things back – and how can we make progress?

Rabah shared some practical resources with the group, created to assist councils and other organizations in getting past the catalog phase, and focus on results and outcomes with open data:

Open Data Field Guide

Be sure to check out the entire debate. It was a great conversation with some of open data’s most involved thought-leaders and stakeholders.

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