I started my day with a call to South Africa at 7:00 a.m. and will end my day with a call to Edmonton, Canada. I love the days when my work is bookended by inspiring, creative, and thoughtful conversations. As a Project Manager at Socrata, these conversations are not unusual. My days are filled with exciting dialogues that do a good job of replacing my need for an afternoon coffee fix; I’m energized by interacting with people who are committed to open data.
Six months into this role, I have discovered my favorite trait in our customers—they are BOLD. Not only is it a pleasure to work with people who are bold, but my experience tells me it is an indicator of successful open data programs to come.
Launching an open data initiative, whether it’s an open data portal, a performance measurement site, or a financial transparency app, is courageous. Open data, while trending, is still in its infancy as a global phenomenon. The following customer anecdotes, from those who have stepped out of their comfort zones in order to go the extra mile for their citizens, illustrate the impact that results from a bold approach to open data.
Fort Worth, Texas
Fort Worth recently joined cities like Boston and Seattle as a Socrata customer and, within weeks of committing to build an open data portal, launched data.fortworthtexas.gov. As we approached the phase of the implementation when the City would upload its first dataset, I was on the edge of my seat, as I always am at this stage; there’s nothing quite as effective as uploading the first dataset to help everyone feel ownership of, and excitement for, the project. And, what did Fort Worth upload first? A dataset with 731,645 rows! To help provide some perspective on this achievement, a typical first upload is a dataset containing somewhere between 100 and 50,000 rows. Fort Worth proved that everything really is bigger in Texas with this massive upload.
Now, why is this bold? First, getting a dataset of this size cleaned and ready for upload requires a tremendous amount of work. It may not surprise you to learn that data doesn’t usually come across a desk in a perfectly formatted and clean state. Rather than dipping their toes in the water, Fort Worth dove in headfirst with this large dataset. Second, I believe uploading large datasets is an indicator of good things to come with an open data program. Where is the proof, you ask? Since their launch, Fort Worth has made a commitment to programmatically uploading high value and large datasets on a regular basis.
“We love data. We live it, eat it, drink it, and dream about it. We believe that data (especially government data) should be open.”
Brian Chatman, Web Content Strategist for the City of Fort Worth (and team-member of the Fort Worth implementation team), comments, “From my perspective, I’m not concerned with the size of the datasets as much as their value to residents and businesses. The most complex or expansive data is often the most important data, and that will be the first thing that people look for when they hit our portal. Sure, a map of 12 or 13 dangerous dogs is easy to port, but I’d rather show people something they have a use for immediately.” I find it fascinating—and powerful—that Fort Worth prioritizes uploading valuable and timely datasets. It was purely coincidental the most useful datasets in Fort Worth were also very large.
Hats off to the Fort Worth team on launching an Open Data Portal full of valuable, timely, and large datasets from day one; I look forward to seeing their portal grow.
Code for South Africa
“We love data. We live it, eat it, drink it, and dream about it. We believe that data (especially government data) should be open.” This quote, found on the Code for South Africa website, shows how seriously committed they are to open data, connecting people to government, community outreach, and supporting civil society. In July 2014, Code for South Africa saw an opportunity to bolster their work by housing their data in an open data portal.
Adi Eyal, the Director of Code for South Africa, has a variety of goals with his open data portal. For example, he wants his site to house data in one central location, so events like hackathons can capitalize on easily-accessible data. Eyal also aims to “fill in the gaps where government is not doing its job of making data available.” Doing this will “show how data should really be provided. Hopefully government will learn from what we are doing.”
Following on the heels of this statement, Code for South Africa has published a number of potentially controversial datasets. For example, they have released a list of all medication price ceilings to help people understand how much they should be paying for medicine (as opposed to how much they are charged). They have also published a dataset detailing all protests across South Africa, their purpose, and whether they were violent. On top of this, Code for South Africa has used the API for this dataset to build their own application—all before the site has gone live!
Publishing datasets that could potentially anger important figures, all in the spirit of transparency, is about as bold as it gets. In the words of Jeff Kaplan, Socrata’s Director
of NGOs and Multilateral, “Code for South Africa is doing something remarkable—creating a dedicated home for data opened by civil society. No other organization is doing this in Africa, or perhaps anywhere else in the world. It will be a model for Open Data efforts by civil society nationwide.”
At Socrata, and in the open data movement in general, we talk a lot about transparency and accountability and how we can nudge our government towards these qualities by publishing open data. Adi Eyal and his team at Code for South Africa have stepped up to the plate and not only nudged, but shoved their government and private industries towards being more transparent and accountable. It’s very cool to see. While the Code for South Africa site is only in its infancy, I predict much to come as they grow to become the hub of open data for South Africa.
It’s refreshing to have daily interactions with customers who wow me; they make me want to work harder, smarter, and to be more bold! I tip my hat to our customers who push themselves, their colleagues, their stakeholders, their government, and their community to step out of their comfort zones. They are all remarkable.