Earlier this summer at the Future of News and Civic Media Conference, speakers swarmed around the topic of open data. The question of the hour was undoubtedly something to this effect: how can we use data to drive action? Recent movements toward transparency have gained incredible momentum, but we’re still in the learning curve phase of putting that data to use. Nick Grossman of OpenPlans posits that while we don’t have all the answers yet, there are key players currently setting the stage for turning “data into action”.
Government. Governments are the gatekeepers to data. They make all of this possible, which in and of itself is a noble gesture, but the simple release of data doesn’t prompt action. Grossman suggests that to obtain the maximum value from data being released, governments should cultivate a following of users and developers to translate and make use of that data and connect back to the community.
Civic Hackers. From GovTrack to PolicyMap, mashup websites spearheaded by civic-minded entrepreneurs are popping up everywhere. Newer applications such as CabSense, which provides recommendations on the best spots to catch a taxi derived from historical data, showcase how entrepreneurial applications are looking to fill voids in the marketplace and have managed to make profits from advertising while they’re at it. More established mashups have introduced APIs to keep subscribers abreast of changes. While APIs might not do much in the way of cultivating community, they do promote action by bringing highly personalized real-time data to the user.
Journalists. As applications are developed to analyze data, the scope of journalism can be seen shifting in a parallel manner. In years past, journalists may have done in-depth analysis in the form of consumer reports or investigating how your tax dollars are being spent. Now, since so much of that information is already available to the public, journalists are being seen investigating the original sources and applications that analyzed that data. For instance, the New York Times recently performed their own analysis of the same data that CabSense used in creating their application.
Creating tools such as websites and apps that analyze data into usable information, especially information we find particular value in, is a booming business. Each of these groups play a vital role in adding meaning and creating accountability around that information. Grossman hopes to see more collaboration between all three in coming years, and we couldn’t agree with him more.