The Possibility and Promise of Open Data

Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.

It has been almost two months since I received an invitation from the White House to participate in the Champions of Change event on June 10. I still remember the deep excitement and joy I felt! I read the email over and over again, and spent hours ensuring that that is was not spam.

I received this recognition for the “California Cage Fight” application.

Friendly rivalry and competition leads to innovation and improved efficiency. Our idea was to use humans’ natural urge to do better than their competition and apply it to government. The app enables users to visualize side-by-side data comparisons of population growth, per capita income, unemployment, new housing units, legal immigration rates and more, over a period of multiple years. “California Cage Fight” pits California counties against each other in a “cage fight”, while businesses can use this information to make investment decisions. We believe that this competition will lead to creating a more business-friendly environment and economic growth.

Attending the event on June 10th was one of the most memorable and humbling experiences in my life. Being in the company of the Champions of Change, learning about their innovative ideas and experiencing their passion, was truly inspiring. For me, being one of those champions meant that I have the responsibility to be true to this recognition and continue on the path of causing positive change.

Other inspiring parts of the experience were being at the White House and being in the presence of senior members of the president’s administration, including White House Director of New Media Macon Phillips, Deputy Assistant to the President Michael Strautmanis, US CTO Aneesh Chopra, US CIO Vivek Kundra and Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Administrator Cass Sunstein.

Following the Champions of Change event, and listening to the feedback I got from the other champions and the US CTO Aneesh Chopra, we are moving forward to improve “California Cage Fight” to include more datasets including the data from the US Department of Commerce. Though the application initially focused on California counties, we will be extending it to compare data at different levels of government across the US and the world.

To make this possible, the application must be able to handle the new data additions easily, and use it in conjunction with the existing data, without having to re-code the application. We plan to use the power of Semantic Web to make this possible, to build dynamic data applications that “mashup” the data in real-time, coupled with powerful data visualization tools to make this information easily accessible and relevant for the users.

Open data fascinates me. Over the past few decades, Information Technology has helped with better service and information delivery to the people. In the process, we have more data and information gathered and available in electronic format. If data is open, we can combine data from multiple sources to see the big picture. The data can tell a story, help us learn from the past and apply it to the future. That is the possibility and promise of open data. Just as collaboration between people can happen with open minds, collaboration between data can happen with open data and I am honored to be part of this movement.

Savita Farooqui is President of SymSoft Solutions, a 15-employee Web development and integration firm that has built up an impressive roster of state and local agency clients in California.

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