Imagining Northeast Ohio headlines that highlight open data

The Sunlight Foundation has focused on local open data efforts for a couple of years but they’re digging in even further now. Likewise, Waldo Jaquith of U.S. Open Data detects a trend in about a half dozen locations where collaborations are powering what he sees as regional data centers.

It’s a practical impossibility for most municipal governments to publish open data. There are 39,044 local governments in the U.S., but those with open data programs number in the dozens. To pick an quasi-arbitrary cap, for governments with fewer than perhaps 100,000 citizens—or 98.7% of subcounty municipal governments—it’s beyond their capabilities. They lack in-house technical expertise. They lack a budget for specialized staff, a data repository, ETL solutions, etc. They’re saddled with lousy, specialized software that has no ability to export data in an open format. Worst of all, they lack clear business cases for why they should open their data holdings.

By banding together, municipalities can work around these obstacles. A central, coordinating entity can determine what data it would be mutually beneficial for them to share, establish norms for that data, and provide shared infrastructure at a viable per-municipality price point.

The work OpenNEO has been doing for the last few months is geared specifically to fan the flames of the hot spots we’ve got here that can lead to an all out effort. What would that look like? We don’t have to go any farther than Detroit and this latest review from Sunlight, “Detroit embraces transparency with new open data portal.”

The blueprint is:

  • Create, adopt and implement open data policy.
  • Evaluate and determine best methods for design, implementation and monitoring.
  • Pair agencies and other stakeholders in an engagement process that produces a report on best methods for pushing Northeast Ohio forward with the creation of the portal.
  • Launch the portal.
  • Attract funding.
  • Develop a sustainability model and business plan.

Why is any entity going to want to do this? Detroit was pushed by a history of corruption and a desperate need for becoming more efficient and accountable. But the goals of transparency, openness, collaboration and innovation are ends in themselves. It also follows that the ability to provide performance measurement and performance management, from within a municipality, rather than pay tens of thousands of dollars, if not more, to outsource either one, is greatly enhanced when open data policies and practices are implemented.

Finally, constituents – taxpayers, parents, public employees, businesses – reap the rewards of data being able to illuminate results and connections that can lead to better policy, better spending and saving strategies and ultimately, a better quality of life.

Anyone want to take bets on when we will see such a headline here?

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