Open Data is an idea that’s gaining momentum worldwide and has real traction, as evidenced in this recent announcement Obama’s big data plans: Lots of cash and lots of open data.
Even though the term Open Data is thrown around in the tech press and other media outlets, the concept is still foreign to many. To shine some light on the terminology and ideas behind open data, let’s explain why governments and other entities are making data open and why we, as public citizens benefit from the movement.
The Internet is a knowledge generation system that, when engaged in the correct manner and for the right reasons, can accomplish amazing feats. As evidence, one can look at web properties such as Wikipedia. Yes this is an often-referred to resource, but no one can argue with the fact that Wikipedia has built up to 3.8 million articles just in the English version and is available in 30+ languages worldwide.
Bottom line: when information is given to a skilled audience who is hungry to help out a good cause, great things can come about.
Governments around the world, both large Federal entities, counties/provinces and municipalities, are unleashing open data on an eager public who’s ready to take the data and create applications and uses unforeseen by the gatekeepers who used to house the data in proprietary platforms.
TriMet, open data, and innovation
Take for example the transportation agency that services the Portland, Oregon area called TriMet. In recent years, TriMet released data on the Portland region’s public transit system which encompasses city buses, light rail and city streetcars.
As a result, all sorts of uses are putting the data to use, including PDXBus, an iPhone application that gives users the next bus or train arrival times based on the users’ location. Similar applications are available for Android and BlackBerrys and because the data is in the open, any application developer or simply someone with a good idea, can put the data to use.
Public transit data is an excellent example of how open data is being put to use for public benefit. Another example of embracing the open data movement is the CivicApps, a public/private partnership between Portland-area government entities and private businesses.
CivicApps: opening the data store
CivicApps.org is a clearinghouse for ideas and apps that use open data sourced from their data store, which currently includes the all two city governments and three counties in the Portland Area, Portland Public Schools, NextBus and the State of Oregon.
In their words, CivicApps was built
to source, profile, and accelerate innovative ideas using Web and mobile technologies. The aim is social change. The path is regional collaboration. The focus is local.
From civic to Clinical Open Innovation
The innovation and activity behind CivicApps and applications such as PDXBus are similar to kinds of activity we’re looking to promote in the Clinical Open Innovation arena.
In our first project, we’ve taken data from the National Institute of Health Clinical Trial Registry, which is online but somewhat limiting in how the data can be accessed and viewed. Now, using Exhibit, anyone can utilize Clinical Collections to surface data based on geolocation, symptoms or drugs involved in the clinical trial.
We’ve harvested the data collected and housed by the NIH and made it consumable and usable for those interested in the clinical data. Soon, we’ll roll out tools and APIs for developers to build on top of.
We look forward to having you join us on our journey.