October 28, 2013 by Waldo Jaquith
Waldo Jaquith is a winner of the 2011 Knight News Challenge for The State Decoded, a digital platform that helps the public understand local and state laws and court decisions. Below, he writes about his new effort being funded by Knight Foundation, the U.S. Open Data Institute. Photo credit: Flickr user NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
I first proposed the idea of the U.S. Open Data Institute to Knight Foundation in the spring. Knight immediately supported the concept and nurtured the organization into existence. And now we’re getting to work.
I’m convinced that we already have many of the right people, organizations and businesses working on open data in the United States. They just don’t know about each other. (The organization certainly won’t duplicate any of the efforts of the folks in this space.) And we have nearly all of the necessary software, but so much of it is only known within its narrow domain, despite its broad applicability. The institute will connect all of these entities, promote the work of those who are leading the way and provide supportive, nonjudgmental assistance to those who need help. We don’t have all the answers, but we know the folks who do. We want to amplify their message and connect them to new collaborators and clients.
There are oceans of information in the hands of government and businesses, information that, if released to the public, could be of great value. Of course, there are the classic examples of the National Weather Service’s data and the nation’s Global Positioning System—information produced by government that has become crucial to the nation’s economy. But it’s time to move beyond those tired examples and create new industries premised on other types of open data: health, transportation, commerce and many others that nobody’s thought of yet.
Groups such as Code for America, the Internet Archive, the OpenGov Foundation and the Sunlight Foundation—many supported by Knight—are doing crucial, foundational work with open data here in the United States. In addition, thousands of specialized organizations and businesses are starting to see the value of open data, and they are doing their best to join the movement.