Gov 2.0 Expo: Live Blogging #3

Session: "Truly Open Data"

Clay Johnson (Sunlight Labs)
Clay opened up the session to the entire audience as a conversation and Q&A.

Clay, "Key to putting out disclosure data on the web, you're helping people get better access at Capital T truth...This allows people to build their own honest opinion of what's going on out there."

Sunlight foundation has established the national data catalog, to facilitate data sharing and give people access to data they may not know exists.  They craw every state and data.gov sources and provide some contextualization.  Data sources have their own wiki and allow commenting for people to share uses and methods for the data.

National data catalog source is hosted on GitHub: http://github.com/sunlightlabs/

Question from audience: Are there examples where agencies have improved data sets resulting from citizen analysis or independent citizens improving the data sets for a government agency?

Example 1: Federal Election Commission Campaign Finance Data
  • Developed a blog that allows citizens to engage on data and suggest improvements and how to use data sets
  • FEC personnel engage one on one with citizens and take up their suggestions from data set improvements to platform suggestions

Question from audience: I believe that things only happen when there is a price tag associate with things.  Are there any studies that attach a dollar amount to opening up data?
 
Clay: There is the legacy of Vivek Kundra's http://data.octo.dc.gov/...I believe that if we put more information on the web we will see less money being spent at a FOIA desk.  It is cheaper to post a CSV file on the web than push it through the FOIA process.  There was a case study conducted in Toronto where they saved money by opening up (my google results: http://eaves.ca/2010/04/14/case-study-open-data-and-the-public-purse/).  I believe openness is cheaper than a close system.  If we work together on the open government initiative it will make a learner and more progressive government.

Question from audience:  Question was about a retail experience but I missed some of it...it was from the "Canadian Vegan" if anyone in the session has better notes!

Clay: Government may not need to create the retail experience by putting bulk data online.

Discussing data accessibility: MS Excel has limitations with the number of rows it can open, specifically 65,536. Some of the data sets available are fairly greater than 65k rows.  Sunlight labs worked to display this data (http://data.sunlightlabs.com/) online so people can search without limitations.

Government may have a version of the truth through a retail web experience (government controlling the serving up of data), whereas the bulk data online (free information flow) allows challenging and refinement of that truth.

Question/Observation from audience: Providing access to data vs. retail experience.  There is an interesting value prop. going the retail experience first and then, by the way, here are the other opportunities to access the data for free.  Insecurity of exposing data for fear of flaws...data gets political quickly.  The question: Do you have any particular advice/approaches when trying to overcome those insecurities when trying to over come the politics? 

Clay, "Part of our vision for http://nationaldatacatalog.com is for there to be a Consumer Reports of data."

Question from Audience: Data Journalism, retail delivery of data where there is a business plan.    Commercial aspects in this space...the data that is opening up now is so valuable to people the big opportunities exist to help corporations and governments make decisions quicker, to run businesses better. 

Clay: This data can solve problems...one of my pet peeves is that Sunlight labs is the only open data advocacy proponent.  Every organization needs to be an open data organization from the human society to the garbage collection agencies.  Another example of open data: http://countysinrankings.org/.  Another thing we want to do is train journalists to tell better stories through open data.

Another Sunlight Labs product: A Congressional Transparency Caucus

Please note:  My quotes may not be 100% accurate.  If a quote is not in quotations it is not verbatim.