Open Data is Giving Power to the People [July 22, 2014]
By Tim Marsh, Acquia
In the 1960’s, the phrase “power to the people” became a popular slogan for citizens who wanted their voices to be heard by the government. It took a few decades, but the open data initiatives being undertaken in communities across the United States have finally made that slogan into a reality.
Open data is information that federal, state and local agencies have made available to citizens in the hopes of creating a well functioning, completely transparent government. Agencies allow pertinent data – the salaries of federal and state workers, for example, or regional property tax records – to be accessible, shared and used by anyone. This results in citizens having unprecedented insight into how their government agencies work, and can improve social and economic value through dissemination of information.
Open data also gives power to the people in another way – the ability to directly interact with the government in real-time.
Historically, citizens have only infrequently influenced government. They may vote every couple of years, or go downtown or online to pay their county taxpayer, and so on.
Open data changes these scenarios completely. Citizens in metro areas that are striving for open data policies now have immediate access to a wealth of information, which they can immediately influence.
For example, OpenOakland is providing opportunities for residents of the California city to contribute to things like the Oakland Wiki, a “site all about Oakland, by Oaklanders,” as well as information about housing projects, early childhood education, and the city budget. The effort is empowering the people of Oakland to help shape the future of their city.
Citizens are only part of a successful open data initiative; in order to make open data initiatives work, municipalities themselves need to do their parts. Many cities across the U.S. have already implemented open data mandates that clearly articulate which data must be made open, and how it can be accessed. Thus, local agencies must be able to effectively process and make data accessible, along with accepting and managing citizens’ input.
To do that, they need technology that runs on systems they already have in place (like the Drupal content management system, which many agencies use for their data), and will help them handle large amounts of data in very agile ways. The best option for many is a combination of open source technology, which works well in virtually any environment, and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), which benefits from the flexibility of the cloud.
This is why Acquia and Carahsoft have partnered with NuCivic to launch NuCivic Data, the first open source SaaS open data management solution. NuCivic Data provides federal, state and local agencies with the technology backbone to host and manage data, visualize it, put it online, and make it immediately accessible, all while combining the best aspects of SaaS and open source.
Solutions like NuCivic Data help agencies meet open data mandates and goals, while allowing citizens to gain insight and provide input into those agencies. They are the tools that will help create a new form of government – one that is extremely open, highly collaborative, and powered by the people.