Open Data Can Help Government Be the Airbnb of Civic Services


Until recently, 99 percent of government data around the world was shrouded in darkness. It was trapped in a vault, gathering mold, and never saw the light of day.

But the vibrant open data movement, which is taking hold on just about every continent, has begun to radically change this. Now, government data is being unlocked and illuminated, and it’s helping citizens, communities, and companies connect and innovate with new insights and intelligence that will drive prosperity for years to come.

I believe that this dramatic shift in government data—which turns night into day for the public sector—will ultimately prove to be as significant for the world as Edison’s electrification at the end of the 19th century. Indeed, we now have the technology infrastructure, platform, applications, and devices to help any government plug into the open data “grid” and turn on the “lights.”

There are four main reasons why government data is experiencing this Edison-like moment now:

  • First, the Internet has moved from being a basic digital backbone that simply moved data. It now opens a real window that enables people at all levels of technology proficiency to do amazing things every day in a seamless and connected way.
  • Second, the Internet user experience has become an extension of our individual and collective nervous system. We are tethered to our digital devices 24×7, and being online is just like breathing.
  • Third, streaming data represents a complete departure from the past. In the past, we were organizing, dragging and dropping, and managing data on the Web. Now, we’re just flowing with dynamic data as it pours in in real time. One of the most striking illustrations of this change is the way that Spotify is helping make iTunes obsolete.
  • Fourth, the shared services economy, based on digitally brokered access to things provided by others, has come of age. Two good examples here are Uber and Airbnb, which have succeeded in disrupting two very complex industries: urban taxi transportation and global hospitality.

Looking ahead, I feel that open data can help government become a cutting-edge broker, just like Uber or Airbnb. In fact, it’s not too far-fetched to envision the day when government is called the Airbnb of civic services!

Before you dismiss this as hyperbole, think about it. Government can offer its voluminous, under-utilized, and under-valued data as a resource through which important transactions between citizens, communities, and companies can take place.

Why not?

Government is a hub. It sits right in the middle of these groups. And it’s perfectly poised and positioned to add considerable value by connecting people and inspiring a slew of data-driven relationships that affect a host of social, legal, political, and economic issues.

One good example of this can be found in Chicago, where a data visualization explores crime trends so citizens can take action to make their neighborhoods safer. The data visualization was built using open data about Chicago crimes released by the Chicago Police Department.

Another example is New York City’s data visualization, which displays vehicle collisions aggregated by time of day using recently released NYPD motor vehicle collision data.

This new way of viewing government is all part of transforming the public sector from a mere service dispensary to a full-fledged innovation accelerator in the 21st century.

Robert A. Runge is a board member at Socrata, the cloud software company focused exclusively on democratizing access to public sector data for the most innovative organizations around the world. Follow @robertrunge

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