Open Government Data: The Book

By Joshua Tauberer. Second Edition: 2014.
Also available as a Paperback and for Kindle. Tweet me at @JoshData.

On The Openness Process (Public Input, Public Review, and Coordination; Principles 12–14)

The above eleven principles essentially define open government data in its ideal form, but more can be said about the process of opening up government data. How should government agencies decide what to open and how to do it?

(12) Public input: The public is in the best position to determine what information technologies will be best suited for the applications the public intends to create for itself.

Public input is crucial to disseminating information in such a way that it has value. It is so crucial that this is principle number one in the UK Open Data Whitepaper (2012). As the Association of Government Accountants’ principles1 state, “Understand the information that people want, and deliver it. They may not be sure what they need, so help them define it.”

(13) Public review

The final line of the 8 Principles says that “compliance must be reviewable” through a contact person who can receive feedback and monitor compliance with the principles and through a legal requirement for which violations can be contested in court.

The Association of Government Accountants’ principles also note that not only should the data itself be open, but the process of creating the data should also be transparent: “Have a process for ensuring that data you disclose are accurate and reliable, and show that process to users.” Sunlight Foundation’s Open Data Policy Guidelines (2014) says to “(24) Create Or Appoint Oversight Authority” and “(25) Create Guidance Or Other Binding Regulations For Implementation.” The G8 Open Data Charter2 says to be “transparent about our own data collection, standards, and publishing processes, by documenting all of these related processes online.”

(14) Interagency coordination

Interoperability makes data more valuable by making it easier to derive new uses from combinations of data. To the extent two data sets refer to the same kinds of things, the creators of the data sets should strive to make them interoperable. This may mean developing a shared data standard, or adopting an existing standard, possibly through coordination within government across agencies. The use of open data formats often, but not always, entails interoperability. However, we recognize that interoperability can come at a cost. Governments must weigh the advantages of distributing non-interoperable data quickly against the net gain of investing in interoperability and delaying a release of the data. (This is also principle 6 in the UK Open Data Whitepaper (2012).)

(Principles 16 and 17 of the first edition have been removed in the second edition of this book, and the old Principle 10 was merged with Principle 5.)