Opening government data - the reuse community
The demand that government should publish the data that it collects and generates in the course of its work comes from a number of sources. Transparency advocates see open Public Sector Information as a key plank of open government. Researchers in numerous fields can find uses for government data and there’s no doubt that improving the availability of data can increase efficiency within government by reducing duplication in information collection. Open data advocates also argue that there is a broader community with interest in this data and that benefits will flow from making it available to them. It may seem like an article of faith that this community exists but the experience of the Open Knowledge Foundation in Victoria is that it is very real.
In December 2013, the Open Knowledge Foundation and VicRoads held a meetup, which brought together government data custodians with over fifty data enthusiasts. A diverse group with interests including mapping, urban planning and transport safety came along to learn more about the data that is available and make suggestions about the data they’d like to see released. The evening generated a lot of enthusiasm, but the goal of data publication is not just interest, but reuse.
GovHack is a national hackathon that took place in eleven sites around the country between 11 and 13 July 2014. Over the weekend, teams worked with a huge range of data from local, state and federal government to create interactive tools, visualisations and pieces of data journalism. Some hacks make data more accessible or engaging, other hacks tackled specific challenges posed by the data providers, such as creating a dashboard of essential information for exploring Melbourne or helping people with accessibility needs navigate the city.
Helping these projects to have a life beyond the weekend is a further challenge, but GovHack organisers hope that as the community matures more teams will be able to work with data owners to bring these projects into a useable form. Even if the teams that created the hacks don’t want to keep working on the project, the fact that all entries must be open source means that others are free to develop a promising idea.
An event like GovHack generates a huge number of ideas, from the serious to the playful, in a short space of time. It also serves a broader purpose in increasing awareness of and interest in government data in the maker community and increasing understanding between data owners and consumers. Ultimately, building a collaborative relationship between government data custodians and the reuse community will help generate creative solutions to problems and give government data a life beyond the collecting agency.
Photo by Jordan Wilson Otto