Building the Future of Open Data: Part 1

Building the Future of Open Data: Part 1

At the 2015 Free and Open Source for Geo North America (FOSS4GNA) conference in San Francisco, I had the fantastic opportunity to present on the topic of the Future of Open Geo Data.


Open government data plays a vital role in civic participation and government transparency.  Liberating data opens access to information that may have been previously unavailable, unobtainable or costly. The resulting open data can improve the transparency of government operations and encourage economic and community development. This process often starts a dialog between the government and its community which can result in important civic collaboration. There are now hundreds of cities, states and countries that operate thriving data portals and the benefits offered – economic development, transparency and citizen engagement – are proof of the value of open initiatives.

What might the future of open government data look like? How will cities evolve to meet the needs of both producers and consumers of data? How will data providers share ideas and learn from each other to create a more sustainable and harmonious open data community?

Research & Survey

I performed some background research on what others thought the future of open data might look like to answer these questions. I assembled and tested a hypothesis with a survey of ODI Nodes and other open data advocates. Twenty-seven individuals from nonprofit and commercial organizations with a strong interest in open data responded to the survey.  A few assumptions and notes about the survey:

  • I am primarily addressing open data that is released by local, state and national governments. Much other important open data exist (nonprofit, commercial, academic) but for the context of this talk, I am referring primarily to government data.
  • For the purpose of this survey and talk, I’ve defined the future as the next three years.

Below are the results of my hypothesis testing. The potential responses are organized by category , with the percentage of respondents who agreed with each item in parentheses. Respondents selected as many options per topic as they thought were applicable.

Future predictions relating to Data Standards & Quality:
  • Increased development and adoption of open data standards. (67%)
  • Integrated Portals supporting regional & national visualized open data feeds. (37%)
  • More Live data feeds (APIs, linked databases) as opposed to publishing static data sets. (56%)
Future predictions relating to Consumption & Access:
  • Published data consistently serving a variety of needs (publishing data as: viewer, download & API). (52%)
  • Open data serving as common topic of civic discourse (such as political platforms during elections). (33%)
  • More tools available (from both open and closed providers) for publishing of open data. (48%)
Future predictions relating to Adoption & Community:
  • Government policies that have power to enforce open data initiatives and goals. (48%)
  • Governments with dedicated budget & staff for open data initiatives. (59%)
  • 3rd parties with strong investment in & advocacy for open data (journalists, academics, etc). (44%)

I also solicited comments regarding aspirations for the future of open data. Here is a selection of the astute comments I received:

  • Literacy: The increase of data literacy and demystification of open data. Increased awareness from politicians of open data.
  • Operations: Transparency as part of strategic operations and requiring of open data strategy as part of bid proposals. Governments releasing not only positive datasets but also those that might make them look bad.
  • Data Publishing and Maintenance: Clean and up-to-date APIs, more crowd-sourced data integrated with public data. More open source options for publishing data.


What do these predictions for the future of open data mean for the creators and consumers of open geospatial data?

  1. Live data linked to downloads. When geospatial data is updated internally, the data download links are automatically updated to reflect the changes. This eliminates the manual and infrequent process of updating data download links.
  2. More data published as APIs to support application development from open data.
  3. Data designed with intent to release including thoughtful collection, metadata creation, storage, maintenance to support seamless publication.
  4. Data formats meeting needs of consumers, for example publishing data published in multiple formats to support casual user, analyst and developer needs.
  5. Geographic based discovery of spatial data with tools such as GeoBlacklight support the search of a geographic location or boundary to discover available data.
  6. Data providers embracing visualization and analysis by the public as this further demonstrates value and demand of open data.

To explore more, you can find my presentation slides and can also watch a re-recording of my entire talk:

Please also check out Part 2 of this blog post which explores actionable steps for data consumers to take to help contribute to the future success of open data.