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The Open Government Directive for Developers

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This morning Aneesh Chopra, the Federal CTO and Vivek Kundra, the Federal CIO announced the Open Government Directive-- and while many have covered what's in it and what agencies must do over the next year to adhere to it, we wanted to talk about what it means to our core audience-- developers.

There are four things that you should know about:

  1. Government is hopping on the "real time" bandwagon as best it can. Though it regularly calls it timely instead of "real time", the first thing the government brings up is not data quality or quantity but timeliness. I think is an important note-- that timleliness is at least as important as quality and quantity itself. Hopefully we'll see some adoption of things like PubSubHubBub or RSSCloud to publish this data over to Data.gov. Data.gov being a PuSH service would be neat.

  2. Data.gov is the central hub for tracking what's really happening with these "transparency" metrics. Government is pushing its agencies to identify three "high-value" data sets and publish them via Data.gov. These data sets must be previously unavalible online or in downloadable format. The agencies have until January 22nd to comply wit this. I presume then Data.gov itself will track for the public how on-track each agency is to this goal-- either by aggregating the statistics, or simply by being machine readable itself (which it is) so that we on the outside can do it. This means we're going to see a lot of large datasets start to come out-- hundreds of them, in the next 6 weeks. Happy Holidays!

  3. The government wants agencies to take data quality seriously. This is primary around finance data. You can see that they're learning from recovery.gov's failure as well as recovery.gov's success and learning from it long-term. They're going to come out with separate quality documentation in two months. They'll be looking for ways to close feedback loops between developers and the data stewards inside government.

  4. Each agency has to create a /Open page. So there will be http://Justice.gov/Open that will talk about the Open Government initiative at the department of Justice. It will "serve as the gateway for agency activities related to the Open Government Directive," and not only provide government data-- but also provide ways to give feedback on the data, ask for information to prioritize for publication, and ask for input on how the agency should go about publishing data. Figuring out what's on them and how they can be both machine and human readable is important.

What's missing is an inventory of data that government publishes online now but doesn't include in data.gov. Things like the Department of Justice's Foreign Lobbyist database that we turn into ForeignLobbying.org

There's lots of organizing opportunities here and developed lots of new need for technology. Specifically around what a /Open page should look like, and how information gets discovered there. It seems to me like there's an opportunity for government modernize the way it publishes information through those /Open pages and make it so that folks like the Data.gov team, as well as our own National Data Catalog can easily auto-discover and track this information. And so the public can get a handle for what's going on and measure the effectiveness of each agency. Over the next few days we'll be working on a "redesigning the government" post to try and sketch out the ideas for what a /Open site should have on it.

Another opportunity is to help agencies figure out how to take input from citizens as to what kind of data it is that they need. People keep bringing up GPS as the kind of government data that can spur industry, but did many people outside of the department of defense even know of its existence before it was released? If not, then how would they know what to ask for? There has to be a way to judge the value of information on the inside not just by public demand, but by the value it can add to society.

There's a lot more-- I'm really pleased with the document. They've provided clear ways for us to track success from the outside with real timelines and real ideas of what to expect. They've made it clear to agencies what the three most important things are: timeliness, quality, and usefulness of data. It is a great step in the right direction. Now let's see if those folks inside the government can stick to the plan.