The federal government has collected data from U.S. citizens for decades, whether it is in the form of census data or public records. Now, Beth Noveck, former deputy chief technology officer for the Obama White House administration, says that data is key to building a more transparent government and more agile public works departments.
“I think there was and continues to be a lot of ambiguity and confusion about whether the role of open data is to shine transparency on the workings of government, to make government more accountable, or to do something different, which I think is the way it has primarily evolved,” Noveck said at an MIT Sloan event.
Noveck led President Obama’s Open Government Initiative until 2011, which encouraged participation and collaboration among citizens and government agencies.
She said that today the data collected by government is primarily used to find solutions in verticals from health care to transportation.
The “government may collect [data] from hospitals about the rate of infection, about farmers markets and where they might be located, about buses and trains and when they arrive and depart,” Noveck said.
When the government makes its data stores public, the private sector can contribute as well.
“The value of this is that the government has the legitimacy and authority to collect that data, but then when it makes it open and freely available, third parties -- technologists, companies large and small and others, educators, universities, etc. – can take and run with that data, and government itself, to build tools that help us solve problems in new ways,” Noveck said.
Ideally, having all of that data out there also makes processes within the government more transparent to its citizens, as well as gives "citizens in cities better tools.”
“We have made tremendous progress [with] millions of data sets from hundreds of governments: national, state, local, online. What we’re missing, though, is that feedback loop,” Noveck said.
She encouraged citizens to weigh in, particularly at the local and city levels, on issues reflected in the data published.