Part 2

Building on Open Data

Editor’s Note

Once government data has been released, what can it be used for and by whom? What are some of the emergent, and perhaps unexpected, applications? In this section, we hear from different users of open data—including entrepreneurs, journalists, community organizers, government employees, and established companies—and discuss examples of what these stakeholders have done with and learned from open government data.

We begin with Chapter 6 by Brightscope co-founders Ryan and Mike Alfred. Their story starts not with open data, but one step before that. In order to build their business, they worked with federal agencies to release and digitize scores of government records. Along the way, they not only created a successful company but also catalyzed an open data-friendly culture within their partner agencies. They share lessons learned for other entrepreneurs seeking to build businesses around government data and discuss the importance of data standards moving forward to reduce barrier of entry to new startups in this space.

In Chapter 7, we hear from another civic startup, SmartProcure, which has developed a model for transforming FOIA into a government improvement platform. Founder Jeffrey Rubenstein discusses how by aggregating, standardizing, and digitizing government purchasing data across jurisdictions, open data can actually become a tool to increase collaboration between government agencies and help them make more informed decisions.

In Chapter 8, we hear from Chicago-based reporter Elliott Ramos about a journalist’s relationship with open public data. He describes how the surge of government data made available under Chicago’s new open data initiative changed the way he reported on local stories and allowed for new kinds of storytelling to emerge.

Steve Spiker is the Director of Research for the Urban Strategies Council, an organization that has been supporting innovation in Oakland for almost twenty-six years and often uses government-held data for projects. In Chapter 9, he writes about how the city of Oakland’s initial foray in open data has impacted the work of local community organizers and researchers—while also cautioning against overly optimistic views of an “open government” based on the release of limited data.

Finally, in Chapter 10, Bibiana McHugh of Portland, Oregon’s TriMet agency writes about her experience developing a data standard for transit information with Google that is now used by hundreds of governments worldwide to make it as easy to get public transit directions as driving directions. She discusses the importance of public-private partnerships in bringing open government data to the platforms and services where people are already going for information.