To promote transparency and citizen engagement, state and local governments are advancing open data initiatives.

“Open data” refers to allowing the public assess to all manner raw data sets collected by government agencies. According to, the federal government’s centralized site for state and local government data, 39 states have opened their data to the public.

“By posting state government data in raw, machine-readable formats, it can be reformatted and reused in different ways,” according to California’s open data repository.  “[This allows] the public greater access to build custom applications in order to analyze and display the information.”

In other words, open data allows for high-tech civic engagement, as displayed at Go Code Colorado, a competition sponsored by the state to encourage startups to use public data collected to create apps to solve private sector problems.

Beagle, a startup from Fort Collins, Colo., won the inaugural competition, taking home a $25,000 contract with the state for its web app, which helps companies select a site to open a new location, according to state materials.

"This challenge helped connect the public sector with the talent and opportunity of the technology community," Go Code judge and Colorado Technology Association CEO Erik Mitisek said in a statement. "I hope this effort stimulates future cooperation to unleash the potential of our homegrown entrepreneurs."

But open data, both at the state and local level, isn’t just for citizen engagement. Interdepartmental, and interjurisdictional communication is also aided by breaking down digital barriers.

“Government data is in demand and a principle consumer of that data is government itself,” Carolyn Parnell, chief information officer for Minnesota said in a statement. “One of the most significant outcomes we’re seeing is the sharing of data across state agencies and across jurisdictions. That can enable cross agency and cross jurisdiction coordination and orchestration which in turn leads to more effective [governance].”

So what can governments do to begin opening up data to the public? A recent report released by The National Association of State Chief Information Officers’ (NASCIO) offers some practical guidance.

NASCIO says government agencies looking to open their data should:

Seek input: Open data strategies are supportive resources. Governments should engage citizens, industry and government employees in dialogue to understand what data is of interest, and why.

Start small: Early projects should be small and manageable. Adopt a risk management approach to judging what data should be included in an open data portfolio.

Publish data in context: Publish data with the necessary contextual information to assist consumers in proper interpretation.

Think open from the beginning: Evaluate the appropriateness of publishing data created from any new program, and anticipate potential open data opportunities in new projects.

For more information on open data and how to make the jump, download NASCIO’s full report here.


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