Last week we announced that Azavea would represent Philadelphia as a new node in a global network launched in 2013 by the Open Data Institute (ODI). This is the second group of ODI nodes (the first wave was in October), and Philadelphia joined Seoul, Osaka, Sheffield and Hawaii as new “regional” nodes. There’s more information about this announcement in the ODI press release, but I wanted to jot down a few notes about what this means for Philadelphia, Azavea and open data.
Let me start by saying that the recent resurgence in popularity for open data is a good thing in a lot of respects. While open data releases by government agencies have received a lot of attention in recent years, there have been parallel –and, I think, equally important– growth in open access to scientific papers and experimental data, greater transparency from some corporations, and increased pressure for access to the personal data held by corporations. And these trends fit hand-in-glove with the longer-term increase in the availability of open source software. These are all important changes and represent some significant momentum. Still, I think the concept of “open data” has been a relatively fuzzy and feel-good concept generally associated with government transparency and civics lessons. The fuzziness may have been useful at first, but if the open data movement is going to become sustainable, I believe it’s going to need more rigor and structure, and it’s going to need to move beyond government transparency. The Open Data Institute is a committed and well-funded organization that is attempting to bring additional rigor to the open data world, and that’s why Azavea has signed up to help cultivate an open data culture.
ODI is promoting open data through a number of initiatives including: case studies that make an economic case for open data, a badging system called Open Data Certificates, training workshops, implementation guides, open data startup incubation, and a commitment to expanding the influence of “open data culture”.
These are likely several other types of activities that would benefit the open data ecosystem. I would like to see more domain-specific standards, like VIP, Open311, Open Civic Data IDs, and GTFS. And I also applaud the recent effort by the Knight Foundation to publish a survey of the civic technology landscape. We need more efforts like these, and ODI will not be able to do it all, but I think they are emphasizing the right things.
Philadelphia has become an important center for open data, civic hacking, and the attendant innovation. We want to both see this type of activity continue and leverage the ODI resources to promote it. Azavea will be placing new emphasis on open data in our blogs, webinars and other publications. We will be encouraging both use and publication of data through our Summer of Maps program. And we will continue our participation in and support of hackathons, CodeForPhilly, and other civic technology activities.
Azavea has both relied upon and contributed to the open data community for many years. As the original developers of the OpenDataPhilly.org data portal, becoming an ODI node is a way for us to both celebrate the growing availability of open data in the Philadelphia region and to engage in activities that will promote advancement of open data. I believe that open data is important not only for government transparency but also for high quality academic research, corporate accountability, and growth of new businesses. Azavea is working with ODI because we think it will be an effective way to advance all of these outcomes. I hope you’ll join us in help grow the open data ecosystem.