Waldo Jacquith: Nice job launching your open data program, now let’s use it to actually move the needle

October 22, 2014 10:37 am PST | Data as a Service

“Your open data program is bad and you should feel bad about it,” says Waldo Jacquith, Executive Director of US Open Data Institute (ODI) this morning at the Socrata Customer Summit.

Jacquith asserts that too many governments have open data sites which do not have goals so it’s impossible to tell if the data are useful, or just to tick an “open data box,” or to fuel apps which end up being useless. But, all is not lost, as Jacquith suggests a few things open data programs can and should do to make their government’s data relevant.

Actually list your data

Too often, government data is scattered across various agency and department websites. Jacquith suggests doing a Google search by file type to find all your government’s open, but not centralized data. He urges government to list all of those data sets, and in doing so, also syndicate other jurisdictions’ data. This is particularly important, Jacquith says as the vast majority of citizens don’t understand government well enough to know where to find data sets — and if it isn’t on your centralized repository, they will be lost.

Let experts be experts

“Don’t ask 20-somethings what data to liberate,” asserts Jacquith, “Just because someone is a developer, doesn’t mean they know what is useful.” He went on to argue that the experts in government, particularly developers and database administrators, know what people want and use. “Those folks are gold,” Jacquith says.

Governments need to encourage their internal experts says Jacquith. It is is critical to provide support to cooperative agencies, because they “may not be used to an open mindset.” One way to do this, suggested Jacquith, who has a well stated aversion to hackathons, is to host a completely internal hackathon, where only government employees participate, to educate them and get them using their own and other agencies’ data.

Find out what is useful

Governments have little to no way of knowing if its open data are useful, so Jacquith suggests first relying on existing communication lines and systems to find out if data are internally useful. He encourages governments to create data stores for themselves first, but in a place which is available to the public. “That is how you will build a sensible and sustainable system for opening data.”

Put your data first

As a corollary to point #3, Jacquith says governments must put its data first and secondarily concern itself with building something on top of that data. If your government is looking for a starting point of what sets to open, he suggests looking at the open data census compiled by Code for America, Sunlight Foundation, and Open Knowledge Foundation.

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