Open Data forums chart path for tech-driven transparency in California

150 150 Robb Korinke

“It’s great to be living in the future,” said Open Counter’s co-founder Peter Koht, talking about Open Data at a San Jose event yesterday–and about being able to get precise info on surf conditions before he hits the waves in Santa Cruz.

Beyond surfing, Koht touted other opportunities data can present to governments, from enhanced knowledge of activities across city departments to easing application processes for local businesses.

The event was the next stop in CA Fwd’s regional work on data, which kicked off in San Bernardino in late June. Geared chiefly towards the San Jose local government and technology communities, the event advanced the discussion started in the Inland Empire last month on how cities can engage on Open Data — a question CA Fwd is working hard this summer to answer.

Apigee, a Silicon Valley firm specializing in API development, played host to more than 40 participants.

“I’ve been a data geek for longer than most of you have been on earth,” began Apigee’s vice president of data & analytics, Anant Jhingran, kicking off yesterday’s event organized by CA Fwd, the City of San José, the Silicon Valley Talent Partnership and Code for San Jose. The event was live-tweeted at #OpenDataSJ.

Surveys of public technology experts suggest state and local governments have just half the infrastructure and perhaps only a third of the personnel necessary to meet the challenges and opportunities of Open Data. Capacity to create Open Data strategies was a topic brought up during a panel on the ‘Civic Tech EcoSystem’ that featured San Jose City Manager Ed Shikada; Julia Burkhead, deputy director at the Community Technology Partnership; Kalen Gallagher, co-leader, Code for San Jose and Mark Headd of Accela.

And it is a balance of challenges and opportunities for California governments and residents that has prompted CA Fwd to engage on the Open Data issue.

The openings broadly fall into three camps:

  • Informing policymakers and managers — ensuring that public officials have the information necessary to shape, implement and evaluate policy.
  • Increase and deepen citizen involvement in public decisions and community activities – promoting traditional transparency and public access, but with a 21st Century mentality.
  • Stimulate economic activity and support emerging businesses – supporting the burgeoning industry — centered here in California — on improving government systems and services.

These core issues cut across the core of CA Fwd’s mission to modernize and improve governance in California, and are key reasons why there is so much attention being paid to data in governments here and across the world.

Budget pressures and the rapidly evolving demands of constituents challenge the ability of governments to take advantage of these opportunities. This speaks to why the ¨Civic Tech EcoSystem¨ is so important and why embracing both the non-profit actors and the avenues for public-private partnerships are so important.

One clear takeaway of both Thursday’s event and the June Inland Empire event is that there are substantial possibilities for economic development, evidenced by the robust participation of private firms and the Governor’s Director of Economic Development, Kish Rajan.

A recent McKinsey study suggested that open data across the country could stimulate $3 trillion to $5 trillion worth of economic activity globally. Given California’s size and technology development strength, it’s easy to see why there is excitement on this subject.

Rajan pointed to other speakers at the event, including Open Counter’s co-founder Peter Koht, Appalicious CEO Yo Yoshida and Brian Purchia of Purchia Communications as he made the case for opening data to boost innovation and create high paying technology jobs in an emerging industry sector. Both San Jose’s City Manager and CIO echoed Rajan’s sentiments as they outlined the ways their city is seeking public private partnerships.

The emergence of state and local agencies as gatekeepers of valuable data has also raised possibilities of improving the complex RFP and procurement process, and how managers can use and reboot this process to support innovation. Lea Deesing, CIO for Riverside, has started building in Open Data components to the RFPs she issues to private and non-profit technology vendors, and such administrative moves may be the most immediate option to speeding access to data in public agencies.

The clearest idea coming out of these initial forums is that there are myriad resources to make government successful, and the benefits are potential massive.

The wave of Open Data is beginning to swell across California. So, what’s next?

Only 2 percent of state and local agencies have a complete big data strategy and 25 percent of the average agency’s data is stored in an unstructured form. That said, close to a dozen states have passed open data policies, as has the federal government, and many of the state policies include local government guidelines.

CA Fwd is committed to making sure these dynamic shifts, and is building exciting and meaningful partnerships across the ¨Civic Tech EcoSystem¨ to connect interested agencies with the people and tools they need to move ahead.


Robb Korinke

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