Civic Innovations

Technology, Government Innovation, and Open Data

Open Data: It’s About the Economy Stupid!

When you look at some of the places where government agencies have embraced open data, you see something interesting. You see active, engaged developer communities building great applications that benefit both citizens and governments.

At almost exactly the time that I write this post, there are developers gathering in Google’s NYC offices to hack on some data from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Transit agencies in other locations, like Massachusetts and the Bay Area benefit not only from the availability of highly useful data in easily consumed formats, but from transit agencies that actively engage them and encourage them to use their data to build useful applications.

Even the smallest states with the most meager economic development funds are filthy rich when it comes to useful government data.

Some might argue that such active developer communities willing to spend their time and energy creating useful transit applications are a function of large metropolitan areas with high concentrations of technology companies, universities and smart developers. Those people would probably be right.

But what if the reverse were true as well?

What if you could encourage the development of a local or regional economy by releasing gobs and gobs of high quality government data, and actively engaging local developers to use it?

It’s an interesting question, particularly for a small state like Delaware and other places that do not have the deep pockets to compete with larger states on the economic development playing field. States like Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, California and others can make grants or loans to encourage development in the tens or even hundreds of millions without breaking a sweat.

Delaware, like other small states, can’t. But even the smallest states with the most meager economic development funds are filthy rich when it comes to useful government data.

This week, the very first open government data bill was introduced in the Delaware General Assembly. Senate Bill 242 (sponsored by State Senator Bethany Hall-Long) would require the Delaware Transit Corporation to release all of its route, schedule and fare information in open data formats for free to the public and third parties. With some luck, and probably a bit of elbow grease as well, the bill will see some action before the end of the legislative session in June.

It’s somewhat curious to see Delaware lag behind other places that have embraced open data, even those close by. Particularly since the current Governor has put an emphasis on growing small businesses within the state, and encouraging entrepreneurship. One of the most effective entrepreneurial tools the state has available to it is the vast stores of data that it collects and maintains.

Hopefully, action on SB 242 will come swiftly and will open the eyes of those in the General Assembly and the Administration to the possibilities that open government data holds for encouraging entrepreneurship.

Here’s hoping…

One response to “Open Data: It’s About the Economy Stupid!”

  1. […] steps that governments can take to encourage and support civic startups, and over 2 years since my first post on the connection between open data and […]

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About Me

I am the former Chief Data Officer for the City of Philadelphia. I also served as Director of Government Relations at Code for America, and as Director of the State of Delaware’s Government Information Center. For about six years, I served in the General Services Administration’s Technology Transformation Services (TTS), and helped pioneer their work with state and local governments. I also led platform evangelism efforts for TTS’ cloud platform, which supports over 30 critical federal agency systems.

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