Today, federal agencies are releasing three high-value data sets to comply with the Obama administration’s open government directive (in fact, some of those datasets are already online). The Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group will be spending some quality time looking at each agency’s “high value” data sets, describing what’s there, what the formats are, how easy they are to download and use, and their potential newsworthiness. We’ll also note whether the data is new, improved, or simply re-released.
After struggling with a methodology, we decided that we will not try to quantify our analysis. We had considered giving grades across various categories, but came to the conclusion that the various categories we’re looking at are too disparate to yield meaningful results. For example, would a series of unsearchable, hard-to-read .tiff files of a modern equivalent of the Pentagon Papers get a higher or lower grade than a machine readable database of the Department of Agriculture’s food pyramid? One can’t be searched or number-crunched, but might yield valuable information to the public about a matter of national importance.
We felt it was better to remain relatively value neutral, and just describe what we find. We will, however, count how many of the data sets were previously unavailable, or available only with a FOIA, or available only after paying a fee, versus those that had been long available. We’re reporters–we want stuff we haven’t seen before, or could only see after jumping through hoops. So we will rate agencies on the basis of the data they release.
Our posts will be going up all day, so follow along as we make our way through the data.