Open Data Cautionary Tale

I am a firm believer in the public being able to access data that it is paying for through taxes (with the exception of sensitive data). That being said, having access to civic data is imperative to the ability to check and balance our government(s). Technically Philly has an article about a civic hacker who requested a data set from Philadelphia Traffic Court because he wanted to analyze the data to look for cases where violations were pleaded down to lesser charges/fines. He was told that it would cost $11,000 for the consulting firm in charge of the server where the data was hosted to make a specialized data dump. Pennsylvania has a “Right To Know” law on the books but Philadelphia’s court system has their own public access policy which allows it to pass the cost of the unique data pull onto the requester. So in essence, the court system is making data difficult to access by imposing a fee.

Any thoughts on this topic?

Here’s the story.

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Open Data Portals: Where To Find Data

Finding sources of open data can be a little cumbersome because there are so many ways to find data. There are a lot of websites that house data. For instance, let’s say that you are looking for data on the bike routes in Philadelphia. One place you can look at is Open Data Philly which is a portal that provides access Philadelphia based data sets, APIs, and applications.  You can search amongst the over 170 datasets or even submit or nominate a dataset to be included on the site.  A quick search on the site shows that there are 6 datasets related to biking ranging from bike rack locations to commuting routes.  Many large cities and counties are have websites where they store open data for their municipalities.

Here are some sites for local/federal government data:

Philadelphia: Open Data Philly

New York City: NYC Open Data

Boston: City of Boston

District of Columbia: Open Data Catalog

U.S. Government: Data.gov

City Departments Release 15 Environmentally-Themed Datasets for Hackathon

Here are some great examples of how open data is being used to create civic projects in Philadelphia.

MyPark, an app built at the EcoCampPhilly Hackathon Stormfighter, an app built at the EcoCampPhilly Hackathon

What can we accomplish with a little collaboration? A lot. Last week five City departments released a total of 15 new data sets in support of Azavea’s EcoCamp event. Among those contributing were the Streets Department, the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, the Community Life Improvement Program (CLIP), Parks and Recreation, and the Water Department.

EcoCamp is a series of events “promoting sustainability and the environment through technology.” Held June 20-22, the events included workshops, an “unconference” (where sessions are led by conference attendees), and a hackathon, a contest for teams of civic hackers to develop software or other technology-driven solutions to the city’s challenges.

The departments’ new datasets were all environmentally-themed. City departments worked hard to release data for EcoCamp. Mining, scrubbing, and releasing data for public consumption are tedious tasks but these efforts are important. Not only does releasing data work…

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