Framing Page for Open Data and NNIP

Meeting Materials by Kathy Pettit, Taryn Roch, Steve Spiker
May 12, 2011

Urban Institute   (NNIP Coordinator)


8:45 – 10:30, Thursday morning

A growing number of organizations are advocating for “open data” but the phrase has a variety of meanings.  In general, it is a philosophy that government data should be freely available to everyone without restrictions.  The idea grew out of the government transparency movement, with the focus on improving the accountability of elected officials by giving the public access to information on government spending, voting, committee scheduling and minutes.  The Obama administration endorsed this idea through the 2009 Open Government Directive, declaring that “transparency, participation, and collaboration form the cornerstone of an open government.”

Since then the scope has been broadened to non-private government administrative records, such as reported crime, 311 service calls, and property information.  Web technology has made the demand for real-time data feasible.  With sluggish economic growth, proponents also argue that open data can spur private and public innovation.   Alongside new advocacy organizations like the Sunlight Foundation and the Open Knowledge Foundation, the amount of data from the private sector has skyrocketed.  Dozens of corporations’ and individuals’ web sites offer data (of varying quality and with a range of motivations). 

These shifts in culture and technology affect the environments in which local NNIP partners work.  Our model of a single entity negotiating access to local government data can be, in image or practice, contrary to the principles of open data.  However, our collective NNIP experience has a lot to offer to the open data movement.  We know that “transparency” cannot be achieved by governments alone – communities also need intermediaries to identify useful data, evaluate its quality, and translate the numbers into information for different audiences.  And the open data movement’s emphasis on advanced technology and individual citizen initiative could exacerbate existing inequities of access to information without a conscious effort to reach out to all residents.