Connecting state and local government leaders

This Handbook Can Help Governments Open Data

Igor Stevanovic /


Connecting state and local government leaders

Opening a large dataset is good but more is better—and other rules of thumb.

Seeking to offer further guidance about what data governments and other entities should open to the public, and how that information can be best used, the Open Knowledge Foundation on Wednesday released an updated version of its Open Data Handbook.

First published in 2012, the online resource features a guide geared toward people with limited knowledge about the jargon and issues associated with open data, as well as other resources, such as case studies and a library of articles, videos and presentations.

Sections of the guide have titles like “What Is Open Data?” and “So I’ve Opened Up Some Data, Now What?” There is also an appendix that delves into the nuances of file formats, such as JSON and XML. And a glossary with definitions for terms like “Share-alike License.”

Of particular interest to governments or agencies getting ready to make datasets publicly available might be recommendations in the “How To Open Up Data” section. These include:

  • Keep it simple. Start out small, simple and fast. There is no requirement that every dataset must be made open right now. Starting out by opening up just one dataset, or even one part of a large dataset, is fine – of course, the more datasets you can open up the better.

Remember this is about innovation. Moving as rapidly as possible is good because it means you can build momentum and learn from experience – innovation is as much about failure as success and not every dataset will be useful.

  • Engage early and engage often. Engage with actual and potential users and re-users of the data as early and as often as you can, be they citizens, businesses or developers. This will ensure that the next iteration of your service is as relevant as it can be.

It is essential to bear in mind that much of the data will not reach ultimate users directly, but rather via ‘info-mediaries.’ These are the people who take the data and transform or remix it to be presented. For example, most of us don’t want or need a large database of GPS coordinates. We would much prefer a map. Thus, engage with info-mediaries first. They will re-use and repurpose the material.

  • Address common fears and misunderstandings. This is especially important if you are working with or within large institutions such as government. When opening up data you will encounter plenty of questions and fears. It is important to (a) identify the most important ones and (b) address them at as early a stage as possible.

The Open Knowledge Foundation is a global nonprofit that uses advocacy, training and technology to promote broader access to, and use of, data and other information.

Bill Lucia is a Reporter for Route Fifty.

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