Best Practices in Open Data

The September 9th worksession on the Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO) Report 2013-7: Best Practices in Open Data Initiatives reminded Montgomery County that we already excel in the field of open data, from dataMontgomery to positions such as the Chief Innovation Officer. According to the report, Montgomery County continues to excel by providing the following:

  • Datasets that the community will find useful may not always be obvious to the government;
  • Preparing and maintaining datasets for release on open data portals can require a significant investment of resources – recommending a cost/benefit analysis to examine whether the community is interested in certain datasets; and
  • Some jurisdictions provide opportunities for stakeholder feedback to help identify datasets for release.

Having an open data policy requires sharing data in an open format where the public can view it without needing to request it from the government.  It must be updated and usable by the public.  The public also needs to be able to discuss and comment on the datasets, as well as request those that they would like access to in the future. However, the datasets the public can make the best use of are not always those which are readily available for publication. For this reason, citizens can send requests to ask for a certain type of data release. Montgomery County has done an excellent job applying these best practices. Montgomery County uses a software called Socrata to publish open data at portal we call dataMontgomery.  dataMontgomery provides “direct access to County datasets in consumable formats” so the public can “review and analyze raw data, and use it for a variety of purposes.” Some of the most popular datasets on dataMontgomery are the county employee salaries, food inspection, and service requests. Other information available involves the public school system as well as polling/elections. Residents can provide feedback on datasets and other issues in the county, as well as request datasets for release.

This open format conforms to the best practices in open data in Montgomery County because anyone can view it, and we are currently trying to apply it to applications and software so it has a variety of uses. One of our innovation projects, the interactive touchscreen kiosks, seeks to provide information to residents and travelers in town centers and dense areas. The food truck catalyst pilot will also apply open data, courtesy of dataMontgomery, in order to boost food trucks throughout the county. These applications of open data prove that the policy is successful and necessary because otherwise, a request from the government would be required and the data would be neither publicly available nor easily accessible.

We continue to be successful in providing open data as well as a portal for the public to provide feedback on this data. We are planning an Open Data Town Hall in the near future. We’ll post information on the town hall as soon as it comes available.