Monday, August 28, 2017

Making Government Data Available to the Public

There's an interesting story in today's Globe about efforts by people in the state's legal community to get the Massachusetts Trial Court to standardize the manner in which data is entered into its statewide computer system, and to make that data widely available in digital form. In "Trial courts decline to standardize data," the Globe's Catie Edmondson reports that the Trial Court has declined to implement this type of standardization now, but it's a positive sign that people are recognizing the benefits of making government-created data available for public use.

Several years ago I was at a conference on government technology and heard a story of how the MBTA had made the GPS data from its buses available in real time. Several entrepreneurs came up with cell phone apps that allowed riders to determine the exact location of the bus they were waiting for and its estimated time of arrival at their location. Another person took this a step further and designed low cost digital clocks for businesses near bus stops to display in their front windows. The rationale here was that if a bus was scheduled to arrive in 2 minutes, a waiting rider might not run into the store to buy something, but if the rider knew that the bus would not be there for 5 minutes - as reported via the store's clock and real-time locational data from the bus - the store might have a new customer.

Hearing that stories and others like it persuaded me that government data could and should be treated as a digital raw material, made available to the public so that entrepreneurs can add value to it in an almost infinite variety of ways. Unfortunately, implementing systems that share data responsibly and equitably take time, but they are on their way.

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