The Mission Behind Open Data: Q&A with Socrata’s CEO

March 22, 2016 11:58 am PST | Data Rockstars

Kevin Merritt, Socrata’s founder and CEO, recently took part in a Q&A to share his thoughts on the role that open data plays in powering strong and efficient digital governments. Kevin is passionate about the potential of open data to help governments solve public safety, finance, and health challenges. Open data is the foundation for government transparency and accountability at all levels. Read what Kevin had to say. 

Kevin Merritt - President and CEO, Socrata
Kevin Merritt – President and CEO, Socrata

What are some ways in which open data helps government leaders make the best choices?

Kevin Merritt (KM): The typical government has more than 1,000 line-of-business systems. These systems are often archaic and don’t interoperate. One of the barriers traditionally preventing governments from making better decisions is poor access to their own data. When governments connect these line-of-business systems into their open data platform, it effectively creates a city-wide data warehouse.

For example, during the outbreak of Legion­naires’ disease in New York City, the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics (MODA) wanted to analyze the problem, but the data was scat­tered across numerous systems in multiple agencies that didn’t ordinarily have any reason to collaborate. Eventually MODA realized the city was publishing almost all of this data on its Socrata-powered open data platform and they could easily access the raw data they needed to make informed decisions. This ultimately led to the solution to this outbreak.

Which cities are innovating with open data and how?

KM: I believe the United States is leading the world in both open data and digital data-driven government. For example, Chicago has a strong commitment and a plan to release all of its data in either real time or near real time. Businesses see that commitment from the city and they’re creating companies and jobs that harness the real-time flow of that information.

Additionally, Seattle is working diligently to have the most transparent and accountable police department in the country. They’re doing this by using data and promoting citizen engagement. One of the police department’s key challenges is trust and police-community relations — transparency is the foundation of restoring that trust. The police department publishes its crime and operational data, such as when an officer discharges his or her weapon. Dashboards show current performance metrics and goals for improving these metrics. It’s an innovative approach.

Where do you see open data heading in the near future?

KM: It feels like every city across the country is changing their position on publishing crime and operational data from the police department. Just in the last six or nine months — in part led by the White House Police Data Initiative — cities are changing the way they use data. They’re starting to think about data sharing as a means to demonstrate accountability and build trust with the community.

Learn how governments are using open data to solve their most pressing challenges


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