Reminder about open data and Obama’s Open Government Directive

Quickly after taking office, President Obama issued a memorandum about open government and opening government data. Then came the Open Government Directive* which said:

To the extent practicable and subject to valid restrictions, agencies should publish information online in an open format that can be retrieved, downloaded, indexed, and searched by commonly used web search applications. An open format is one that is platform independent, machine readable, and made available to the public without restrictions that would impede the re-use of that information.

Essentially, the executive government (er, Obama Administration) adopts the presumption of openness, that distributing public data is the default position and action to take.

Don’t squat on the data. Don’t fret over how people will view or manipulate the data – this is not your concern. Don’t delay its release. If you do this, you are a frigid dataist and I will remember this.

Photo of visual note taking at an open data seminar by Karen Quinn.

*The Directive has a little more backbone than the original memorandum: “This memorandum requires executive departments and agencies to take the following steps toward the goal of creating a more open government.”

Thank you to Tech President.

Obama’s promise for open government

I’m excited about Obama’s memorandum he wrote in his first week of office, on January 21st, 2009. In it, he calls for federal agencies to stop looking for legal ways to say no to requests for data, or in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.

He will help usher in a new American government, where “[a]ll agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure.” 

And the agencies shouldn’t be so passive about the distribution of their data. President Barack Obama continues with:

“…agencies should take affirmative steps to make information public. They should not wait for specific requests from the public. All agencies should use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and done by their Government. Disclosure should be timely.”

The United States Government is probably the world’s largest collector and holder of data. It probably stores more data and information than the internet (minus what the government publishes there). I hope I can expect an onslaught of data, but it must be accessible in multiple formats and in ways we can use. Saving spreadsheets is NOT distributing data. That’s protecting it and trying to make it harder to manipulate. It means providing raw access to tables and databases, providing APIs for custom queries, and XML feeds for simple and broad presentation.

Perhaps we’ll need a White House Office of Data to coordinate with agencies about the formats and presentation and distribution methods they choose or will choose.

I’m glad Obama’s transition team took the advice from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) on this one – they fight for, among many things, the rights of the internet and information and how access to both should be equalized and open. Read the EFF’s news article about this about-face from George Bush’s archaic information policies.

To Obama: When you create that office, please consult the geniuses at EveryBlock for the Office’s “Public Consumption” division. They know how to package data for quick and informative understanding.

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