A Principled Look at Open Data


From Moses to James Madison to David Letterman, important ideas come in lists of ten, as do these principles for opening up government information.[1] The list isn’t new: my colleague John Wonderlich wrote about “themes for legislative information publication” in February 2007, and eight open government data principles emerged from a conference organized by internet oracle Carl Malamud and technology publisher Tim O’Reilly in December 2007.[2] However, we have refreshed the principles, expanded upon them, and added details.

The government is increasingly making data available online, partly in response to congressional and presidential leadership and partly from public pressure. The newly released or updated data varies markedly in quality and usefulness; agencies are searching for guidance on how to do better.

These principles are intended to provide a starting point. They are: completeness, primacy, timeliness, ease of physical and electronic access, machine readability, non-discrimination, use of commonly owned standards, licensing, permanence and usage costs. Each one exists along a continuum of openness, and the list writ large is intended as a guidebook, not a rulebook.

We welcome additional ideas and corrections.[3] The document is available here.


[1] Technically speaking, what we call the “Bill of Rights” was intended to have 12 constitutional amendments, although only 10 were enacted in the 1790s; noted commentator Melvin Kaminsky reports the number of commandments varied over time; and few items from Letterman’s list are actually funny.

[2] Sunlight provided a grant to the conference.

[3] More background materials are available here.