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Open Government Directive: A First Wave of Data, or Rather A Trickle?

By Andrea Di Maio | January 23, 2010 | 2 Comments

open government data

January  22, 2010 was the first deadline for US federal agencies to comply with the Open Government Directive issued on December 9, 2009. In particular agencies were requested to identify and publish online in an open format at least three high-value datasets. These sets must be registered for and should not be previously available online or in a downloadable format.

Looking at this morning (Central European Time) reveals a page with a list of new data sets provided by departments and agencies in compliance with the directive. When I visited the site (at 9:00 am CET, which is midnight on the US West Coast), there were 340 data sets (137 of which indicated as high-value) from 45 departments or agencies. This is a bit more than half of the entities that were supposed to respond (the US government has 15 executive departments, plus the executive office of the President,  and about 70 independent agencies).

Departments and agencies took very different approaches. Some – such as the Department of Justice or of Veteran Affairs – provided loads of data, only few of which were marked as “high-value”. Others – such as the Department of Transportation or NASA – reported exactly three high-value data sets. A few – such as the Nuclear regulatory Commission or the Office of Personnel Management – provided only one or two high-value data sets.

Two things are evident from browsing the list.

First of all, there is no explanation of what makes certain data sets high-value. The definition given in the directive is

information that can be used to increase agency accountability and responsiveness, improve public knowledge of the agency and its operations, further the core mission of the agency, create economic opportunity, or respond to need and demand as identified through public consultation.

and it would be great to be told why agencies picked those rather than different data sets as being high value.

Let me pick a few examples.

  • The Department of the Treasury rates the 2007-2008 State-to-State Migration Outflow data set as high-value, but not the 2007-2008 State-to-State Migration Inflow .
  • For the GSA, all the  Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) Committee Member Lists from year 1997 to 2008 are high-value, but the Time to Hire a GSA Employee is not.
  • The Social Security Administration rates as a high value the Hearings Held In-Person or Via Video Conferencing but not the National Beneficiary Surveys.

And so forth.

The second interesting aspect is that no “tool” has been submitted in this round. “tools” are agency tools or web pages that can be used to mine data sets. Clearly, as the Directive asked for raw data, this is what got. But the submission of some extra tools would have helped determine an agency’s view about the value of that data and would provide some starting point to figure out what to do with that data.

It is clearly too early to judge whether the Open Government Directive is having an impact. Departments and agencies are clearly moving, but the extent to which they are just complying or really leveraging the benefits of open government (see research note U.S. Open Government Directive: What Should Agencies Do?Gartner login required) is still to be determined. Their Open Government Plans, due by April 7, will be much more revealing in this respect.

Comments are closed


  • pizzican says:

    About tools.
    Maybe the publication of raw data (without the “tools” used by the agency to manage them) is intended to stimulate new and “original” ways to use the data?

  • Martin Stewart-Weeks says:

    I know the risk is that this response will be construed as simplistic, but it’s hard to get past the insight that, in the end, the best way to work out what is valuable or useful or interesting to people in public data is to let the people who might use it make that determination. In other words, the only viable approach is to put as much data as possible out there and see what people do with it. It has to be subject to privacy and security and the rest and it can’t all be dumped on day one so it will obviously have to come out in waves, but the basic approach is inescapable. Value has to be determined by the user, not the producer.