Impact of open by default on local government

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Recently there has been a lot of buzz around the release of the White House’s new Open Data Policy in Memorandum M-13-13.

For those of you that may not have read the memorandum in its entirety it directs federal agencies to make all data open and machine readable by default. Obviously there are caveats to that. Agencies can redact data that does not meet disclosure standards regarding security and privacy. The excitement centers around the language of open by default.

What impact does this have on open data initiatives at the municipal level, and as the Open Data Program Manager for the City of Raleigh, NC, I ask myself: How does this affect Open Raleigh?

Immediate impacts

1. M-13-13 creates a new standard for governments to emulate.

"Open by default" is a completely different paradigm in regards to an enterprise data strategy. All enterprise applications at the White House level will now have to make machine readable open data as part of every evaluation in regards to vendor management and procurement.

2. Any data strategy not emulating this new standard as put forth by the White House may be seen as less rigorous by constituents within that municipality. Open Raleigh is no exception. This memorandum will be the topic at the next Open Raleigh Steering Committee meeting.

3. "Open by default" in practice may affect other considerations (user experience and features versus meeting the new "open by default" standard) when purchasing new applications or considering the renewal of existing applications.

4. Adoption of "open by default" will require an enterprise wide data strategy requiring an internal infrastructure that can support such a standard.

Open Data Policy as open source: Project Open Data

The White House move to release the Open Data Policy and supporting documentation on GitHub essentially makes this policy now open source. This is a similar model to the one being developed by Open Raleigh. Once Open Raleigh’s steering committee has worked through its draft on open data policy for the City of Raleigh, this policy will go through a formal adoption process and then be released to GitHub as well. Citizens will be able to comment on the draft and participate in the policy creation process.

The timing of Project Open Data by the White House is ideal for Raleigh and the other municipalities within the Triangle. Making the policy and the implementation process open source allows for others to adopt and fork these ideas to suit the local environment. Open Raleigh may or may not be ready for "open by default" but it certainly is ready to share the work that is being done by its steering committee with the community.

The White House has made a bold move with the release of its policies, implementation plans, schemas, and workflows onto GitHub. Will "open by default" work at the federal level? Time will tell. Adopting it at the local level will require serious thinking and collaboration on the part of Raleigh and other local governments. This is something we need in order to start that conversation.

Jason Hare
Two decades experience analyzing user behavior interacting with web applications. Experience includes developing user interfaces using rapid prototyping and an iterative project management style to create award winning, user-centered information portals. Primary interests include Big Data and Open Data applications and community engagement in a public sector environment.

1 Comment

This policy from the White House was today picked up by an IT/Internet news site in the Netherlands. It states our country, The Netherlands, are behind in these (open data) developments compared to the US. Although we do have an open data policy since 2010.

The ministry of internal affairs is working on a vision on open data, the article also says. The European Commission is quoted which aims our government data is worth 40 Billion Euro, and could double when open data is applied.

I say, time to follow examples like the US, UK, France and Denmark!

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