On May 9, 2013 The White House published an executive order – “Making Open and Machine Readable the New Default for Government Information” essentially reaffirming the new strategies the US government agencies to share data with the public.
Before we state why is this important, lets focus on what exactly open data means? According to the Open Definition “Open data is data that can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone – subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and sharealike.”
Why is this important when it comes to government data?
Because of the sheer volume and various types of data collected by the government, opening these data to the public can create incredible incremental value for the society and economy. As the OpenDataHandbook states, open government data can create value in the democratic control, citizen participation, improved products and services, innovation, increased efficiency of government structures, implementation of new measurements and policies and new unanticipated ways to increase the economic prosperity and knowledge base in the society. Basically, that is what the order also reiterates:
“As one vital benefit of open government, making information resources easy to find, accessible, and usable can fuel entrepreneurship, innovation, and scientific discovery that improves Americans’ lives and contributes significantly to job creation.”
And although publishing government data online is admirable initiative, the next step – publishing it in “machine readable” formats, though less understood is of profound importance for the use of the data – it influences the ways the data can be used by developers. “Machine readable” does not mean just uploading a PDF/Jpeg or whatever file online for a person to see. Machine readable actually allows computers to “understand” (process/analyze) the information. All of this is achieved through using machine-readable formats like csv, xml, json, rdf, etc. The goal of the machine-readable data is to make it more accessible to developers, who can integrate it into applications and foster innovation:
“Government information shall be managed as an asset throughout its life cycle to promote interoperability and openness, and, wherever possible and legally permissible, to ensure that data are released to the public in ways that make the data easy to find, accessible, and usable.”
Additionally, the executive order states that within 30 days from the issuance of the executive order, “…the CIO and CTO shall publish an open online repository of tools and best practices to assist agencies in integrating the Open Data Policy into their operations in furtherance of their missions.”