“The world is driven by data today, and the government is no exception.”
Andrew Hoppin, President of Open Data Solutions at GovDelivery, gave the best reason to learn about and start improving your own open data portals during GovDelivery’s recent webinar, DKAN: Enterprise Open Source, Open Data.
But because of challenges in the workplace — such as an aging workforce, tightening budgets and rapidly changing technology — getting familiar with what an open data portal is, what it can do for your organization, and how to implement it, can seem like a daunting task.
As the webinar presenters explained, though, it’s worth it. The benefits to providing the information your audience needs in an easy-to-find and easy-to-interpret way are exponential.
Hoppin and Sid Burgess, GovDelivery’s Senior Open Data Consultant, discussed how open data can be used to pinpoint citizens needs and the way your organization can change its mindset to better benefit your audience online.
What is open data?
Open data is any data that can be used and redistributed by anyone without restrictions. It can include maps, pictures, and metrics — anything that you can put on the web.
All content can be considered data, according to Hoppin, and should be considered as such to make sure citizens are able to find what they are looking for within your portal. “It’s not ideal,” Hoppin said of the state of open data, “but we’re committed to leveling up to make it the thing it should be.”
Shift your mindset
In the past, government has used open data portals to present information in a way that would make it easier for other government agencies to access and use information. This has led to a failure to consolidate data from disparate sources, a lack of community adoption and internal expertise and program support, and invalid, incomplete, inaccessible or aging data being presented.
By using open data only for themselves, organizations have been missing out on two important functions open data can serve: gaining insight into what your audience wants to know from you, and giving it to them in ways they want to see it without fielding numerous phone calls and emails with questions.
So how do you pick what information should be presented? “Don’t be scared of being heavy in the customer interaction realm,” Burgess said. “A lot of the time, they will tell you what they want.” Burgess said the best way to pinpoint what an audience will want is to ask three questions:
- Who will be looking at this data?
- What questions should the data presented answer?
- And why are they even looking for it in the first place?
Those questions can be answered with a wide range of information. For example, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) knows their audience is using their site for scientific research. Instead of publishing data in disorganized and hard-to-find ways, USDA uses over 85,000 taxonomies and data types on one searchable platform to create enhanced citation capabilities and a rich data scheme.
How can DKAN help?
DKAN is an open source open data platform with a full suite of cataloging, publishing, and visualization features that allows organizations to easily share data with the public. DKAN can help your organization create its own open data portal with its turnkey solution.
DKAN allows your organization to customize your open data portal to make it truly your own. You can add tagged graphics, maps, charts and resource data as you please, customize colors and fonts and add your own logo to premade layouts, and more — all through a drag and droppable interface.
When your information is published on the web, it can easily be searched and shared through email, social media platforms, and other tools to let your audience know what information is there and how to find it, building a community around your open data.
Plus, DKAN comes standards-compliant out of the box, so there’s no need to put extra time or money into improving security.
Our open data solutions were created by a team of civic technologists, inspired by their work introducing and deploying open source systems for the New York State Senate, who continue to champion the real-world benefits and life improvements that open data programs can provide.
For more tips on making your open data accessible and to grow your open data community, download our open data checklist.