The “open data” movement — the push to make government information accessible and transparent — has been on the upswing. In 2013, U.S. the government launched a groundbreaking open data initiative, calling information “a valuable national asset whose value is multiplied when it is made easily accessible to the public.”
Open data advocates want to see current achievements in government transparency expanded even further. The recently published Action Plan for the Next Administration, a product of the Center for Open Data Enterprise, lays out 27 goals for the future of open data, calling for leadership across federal agencies and providing them with steps they can take to ensure that the drive toward open data continues.
Four Avenues to Promote Open Data
Advocates describe four avenues of approach to expanding open data in government, including:
- Enhancing the open data environment within government
- Using data to deliver benefits to citizens
- Making scientific research data available to drive innovation
- Making government data a resource for businesses and entrepreneurs
To make data a priority, government needs to put leaders in place. To that end, the report’s first action item is a call to appoint a chief data officer in every federal agency. Any open data initiative requires a leader who is able to coordinate within an agency and across government.
The plan also calls for specific projects that could be undertaken in the early days of a new administration, and which could have direct benefits to citizens. Some of these data dissemination projects call for participation from federal agencies beyond the White House. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture could generate a national hunger heat map using data already in hand. Such a map could highlight food availability — such as restaurants and supermarkets with excess inventory — and chart those against areas where food is needed.
Open Data as a Door to Business Opportunity
When it comes to the business community, open data initiative advocates say there is much that the new administration could do to help spur economic activity and drive employment. For example, the action plan calls for a combined effort by the U.S. Department of Labor and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Together, these institutions could aggregate and publish extensive employment information that would help businesses identify likely talent pools, while also helping workers locate potential opportunities.
In the first 100 days, the National Science Foundation could develop a data census delivering key information about federally funded research, and could then require such data dissemination as part of grantees’ ongoing annual reporting. Such an inventory would help ensure public access to the data and results of federally funded research, allowing the business community to access published findings and potentially bring new innovations into the public arena faster. According to the Center for Open Data Enterprise report, “Since the NSF already requires its grantees to report annually on their work through the FastLane system on Research.gov, adding these survey questions will not substantially increase reporting burden.” Such disclosure would help the business community follow research trends over time, which could help business leaders chart the future course of their efforts.
In a final recommendation, the Center says it’s time for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to develop an open source online search tool for government-owned patents. The report states that there are over 45,000 license-free inventions and technologies the business community could be tapping, if only it knew where to look. “Federal science agencies should assist in the identification of intellectual property of the federal government,” the report suggests. “The USPTO should complete a plan for this search tool by June 2017, in consultation with other federal agencies and users of patent data, and implement it by January 2018.”
Open data advocates have made strong headway in recent years, and with active support from the White House, they could do even more to make open data flourish in support of ordinary citizens and the business community as a whole.