Open Data Is A Priority

Public Data Ferret is a project of the government transparency 501c3 Public Eye Northwest. Ferret is partnered with the Seattle Times and its emphasis is on performance-focused reporting based on government documents and structured data. Articles are organized in a database by topic and government jurisdictions including Seattle, King County, Washington State and the U.S.

Examples: University of Washington+Ethics; Seattle+Management; Washington State+Transportation.

The data visualization archive includes original work done with structured data. In analyzing structured data we try to find the most newsworthy aspects. Examples follow.

27 Years of Data: Seattle Crime Rate Sharply Declining

Washington Tops U.S. In 12-year Alzheimer’s Death Rates

Washington Led U.S. In Breast Cancer For Most Recent Year Reported

Washington Achievement Test Pass Rates Mostly Stagnant Since 2006

WA Fertility Up, Abortion Down, 1997 to 2011

Washington Near Top In 51-Year Rates of Rape, Larceny

World Bank Data Viz: Lower Fertility, Longer Lives

Gross Debt as a Portion of GDP, 16 Nations.

More government data needs to be liberated from the .pdf file format and put into structured downloadable formats such as Excel and CSV so that third parties can add value through civic apps and data visualizations. Government open data sites are a step in the right direction but need to include more and better data, particularly historical and regularly updated performance data.

One attempt to move Washington State further in this direction is HB 2202 sponsored in the 2014 session by State Sen. Reuven Carlyle. In its current form it would require the CIO within 18 months of the bill’s passage to report on state agency plans to make data sets public, and would require state agencies to publish their data sets online within five years or give reasons why they have not done so.

Another important way governments can become more open and accountable is to embrace Open 311 reporting systems for needed infrastructure repairs, versus the default closed approach in which an individual fills out and submits an online form to report a pothole, broken streetlight, or crumbling curb. An exemplar of Open 311 is FixMyStreet.com in the U.K. (Brent Council detail.) A key aspect of a useful Open 311 system is government buy-in, and prompt agency response to site operators on repair priority level and actions taken for reported problems.

We encourage civic data analysts interested in creating structured data products to collaborate with Public Data Ferret. We also welcome collaboration in developing an NGO- and privately-funded effort to begin cataloging public data sets in Washington and using the state public records act to secure data sets for a specified program of public interest reporting. Contact Matt Rosenberg: matt(at)publiceyenorthwest(dot)org.

RELATED: Selected writings on open government and open data.

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