There is a global set of principles on how to publish data developed by governments, civil society, and data experts. Among these principles is that data should, by default, be open to the public.
As it stands, most government data is inaccessible to the regular citizen, unless someone makes a request. Often, one must jump through hoops to get access to government data.
Of course, there are justifiable reasons to limit access to certain types of data, for security or data protection purposes. But there is a growing movement across the globe to make data available to the public to make informed decisions and participate in civil discourse.
The Open Data Charter states that the benefits of open data, which is easily accessible and usable to society, is to allow for improved governance and citizen engagement. The charter further states that open data would help spur innovation that would further economic development.
Spatial Data Use
One of the most commonly downloaded data is spatial. Spatial data, also known as geospatial data, is defined as all data elements or parts that exist in geographical space.
Spatial data is primarily used in mapping. Geospatial data is interpreted via Geographic Information Systems or GIS. GIS is essentially software that compiles data and outputs it in a digital visual format for analyzation and interpretation.
Providing geospatial data to the public can come in the form of budget data, crime statistics, real estate data, education information, public transportation routes, and much more.
“An important component of Open Government is Open Data.”— Washington, DC Open Data project
Washington, DC is a prime example of a government body providing open data to its citizens. Through its online portal, the public can view a range of city information, including: city finances; online maps; crime statistics; public school profiles; property; and a plethora of other facts and figures.
The District of Columbia’s Open Data project is part of its overall mission of providing open government to its citizens. The mission ensures that transparency of government operations is available at every level and promote civic engagement.
The State of California also provides open data to the public. Citizens can access data on natural resources, economy and demographics, health and human services, government, transportation, and detailed water data. The latter data set from the state’s online GIS portal provides information such as surface water habitat and toxicity, and systems information on dams, canals, and aqueducts.
Integrating Open GIS Data
Public View provides the ability for citizens to locate specific landmarks and public facilities, such as schools, parks, and even tennis courts. Other Public View data citizens can access are bike routes, trash and street sweeping schedules, utility data, property statistics, and bus routes between certain landmarks.
Mission Viejo’s Public View is customized to provide public mapping of street lights, daily weather forecasts, and Census tract information.
Utility companies use GIS open data to communicate with residents to inform them of capital improvement projects and emergency service updates. They can also manage utility bills using GIS software. Cities use GIS technology to alert residents of news, events, and business resources.
“DataSF’s mission is to empower use of data. We seek to transform the way the City works through the use of data.” City of San Francisco
The City of San Francisco also provides its citizens with governmental and public data access through its open data platforms.
San Francisco provides data on the city’s business, economic and community development, city management and ethics, transportation, public safety, health and social services, infrastructure, culture and recreation, and more.
Nobel Systems created a Landmarks mapping app for San Francisco using GeoViewer™. The city uses the GIS application to locate, identify, and submit data collection information on its monuments. The app provides the ability to also send images and video. This information is available via GeoViewer Mobile or desktop.
GIS and Open Data for the Greater Good
Beyond management and statistics, open data can pave the way to healthier and more productive lives. Early in GIS history, Geographer Charles Piquet used spatial analysis to map cholera outbreaks in Paris in 1832.
A modern version of using geospatial data to track and solve health concerns is The AIR Louisville project. Louisville, Kentucky is rated as one of the worst cities for those suffering from asthma.
The City of Louisville together with the Institute for Health, Air, Water and Soil, and Propeller Health, came up with a “smart inhalers” that show where, when, and how often Louisville residents used their inhalers.
The inhaler use data collected helped health and public officials identify problem areas and trigger points, and take steps to improve air quality in those areas.
In Summary“Data has the power to revolutionise and disrupt that way societies are governed.” -- Rikkus Duus and Mike Cooray, from the World Economic Forum #opendata #GISdata Click To Tweet
Using open data and GIS applications to improve citizen access to important information to help them make informed decisions is critical.
Whether tracking essential health and public issues, or giving the public a clear picture of how their governments are operating, providing open data in conjunction with GIS to relay this information is an essential step in the advancement of civil society.