Open data, or data that’s free and available to the public, is increasingly being used by different U.S. government sectors to promote transparency and open a public dialogue to solicit new solutions to a variety of problems.

Use of Open Data on the Rise

A recent example is the government’s crowdsourcing initiatives, which aim to use problem-solving competitions to take advantage of technology breakthroughs and create greater efficiencies in how the government works. Another example involves initiatives to promote the use and sharing of open source code among government agencies.

Tackling Traffic Fatalities

One of the latest ways in which the government is using open data is by freely distributing information related to fatal traffic accidents to solicit ideas on how to improve this growing problem and reduce overall fatalities. One of the key drivers behind this initiative is the recent increase in traffic fatalities, which were up by 7.2 percent during 2015, reversing the previous downward trend. The Department of Transportation is releasing this data in the hope that interested parties can contribute ideas on how to tackle tough issues such as pedestrian and cyclist fatalities, which have increased to a level not seen in the past 20 years, according to a DOT press release. By releasing information related to these accidents, the Department of Transportation’s goal is for people to come up with ideas around what is causing them and how similar accidents can be avoided in the future.

Under this initiative, several areas for improvement have already been identified by the many private sector firms and educational institutions that have taken up the challenge. These include the use of mobility analytics to determine travel patterns in the vicinity of fatal accidents and the use of an analytical location intelligence platform for real-time tracking of transport patterns and trends. Other initiatives involve providing drivers with accurate, up-to-date information regarding congestion and traffic accidents to allow them to make more informed decisions regarding which routes to take at a particular time.

Steps Toward Progress

The Department of Transportation recently held the 2016 Summit for Safer People, Safer Streets in Washington D.C., as well as the Mayors’ Challenge, which elicited ideas from local leaders from 245 communities throughout the country for improving pedestrian and cyclist safety in light of the significant spike in fatalities. Awards were handed out in the following Mayors’ Challenge activities:

  • Take a complete streets approach
  • Fix barriers to make streets safe and convenient for everyone
  • Gather and track biking and walking data
  • Design right for safety
  • Create and complete pedestrian and bicycle networks
  • Improve safety laws and regulations
  • Educate and enforce proper road behavior

The traffic data that’s been released provides a wealth of information, but involving the public and other interested parties in helping government data scientists hunt through the massive amounts of data is bringing out insights that might otherwise have been missed. For example, the revelation that 90 percent of fatal crashes involve human error has refocused efforts on understanding the role of human factors in traffic accidents and fatalities so that measures can be taken to help prevent such accidents.

Promoting Government Transparency

The use of open data can do much to increase government transparency and identify innovative solutions to pressing problems. Governments around the world are undertaking open data initiatives in order to drive innovation, improve efficiency and identify opportunities for improvement in a wide range of scenarios, from transportation to the healthcare industry. By harnessing the wisdom of the crowd, better outcomes can be achieved.

As technology becomes a more prevalent part of everyday life, citizens are increasingly pushing for more government transparency. Learn more about technology’s role in open government initiatives here.