Safety Datapalooza Shows Power of Communities

Lisa Nelson at DigitalGov: “The White House Office of Public Engagement held the first Safety Datapalooza illustrating the power of communities. Federal Chief Technology Officer Todd Park and Deputy Secretary of Transportation John Porcari hosted the event, which touted the data available on and the community of innovators using it to make effective tools for consumers.
The event showcased many of the  tools that have been produced as a result of  opening this safety data including:

  • PulsePoint, from the San Ramon Fire Protection District, a lifesaving mobile app that allows CPR-trained volunteers to be notified if someone nearby is in need of emergency assistance;
  • Commute and crime maps, from Trulia, allow home buyers to choose their new residence based on two important everyday factors; and
  • Hurricane App, from the American Red Cross, to monitor storm conditions, prepare your family and home, find help, and let others know you’re safe even if the power is out;

Safety data is far from alone in generating innovative ideas and gathering a community of developers and entrepreneurs, currently has 16 different topically diverse communities on land and sea — the Cities and Oceans communities being two such examples.’s communities are a virtual meeting spot for interested parties across government, academia and industry to come together and put the data to use. enables a whole set of tools to make these communities come to life: apps, blogs, challenges, forums, ranking, rating and wikis.
For a summary of the Safety Datapalooza visit Transportation’s “Fast Lane” blog.”

The LinkedIn Volunteer Marketplace: Connecting Professionals to Nonprofit Volunteer Opportunities

LinkedIn: “Last spring, a shelter in Berkeley, CA needed an architect to help it expand its facilities. A young architect who lives nearby had just made a New Year’s resolution to join a nonprofit board. In an earlier era, they would not have known each other existed.
But in this instance the shelter’s executive director used LinkedIn to contact the architect – and the architect jumped at the opportunity to serve on the shelter’s board. The connection brought enormous value to both parties involved – the nonprofit shelter got the expertise it needed and the young architect was able to amplify her social impact while broadening her professional skills.
This story inspired me and my colleagues at LinkedIn. As someone who studies and invests (as a venture capitalist) in internet marketplaces, I realized the somewhat serendipitous connection between architect and shelter would happen more often if there were a dedicated volunteer marketplace. After all, there are hundreds of thousands of “nonprofit needs” in the world, and even more professionals who want to donate their skills to help meet these needs.
The challenge is that nonprofits and professionals don’t know how to easily find each other. LinkedIn Volunteer Marketplace aims to solve that problem.
Changing the professional definition of “opportunity”
When I talk with LinkedIn members, many tell me they aren’t actively looking for traditional job opportunities. Instead, they want to hone or leverage their skills while also making a positive impact on the world.
Students often fall into this category. Retired professionals and stay-at-home parents seek ways to continue to leverage their skills and experience. And while busy professionals who love their current gigs may not necessarily be looking for a new position, these are often the very people who are most actively engaged in “meaningful searches” – a volunteer opportunity that will enhance their life in ways beyond what their primary vocation provides.
By providing opportunities for all these different kinds of LinkedIn members, we aim to help the social sector by doing what we do best as a company: connecting talent with opportunity at massive scale.
And to ensure that the volunteer opportunities you see in the LinkedIn Volunteer Marketplace are high quality, we’re partnering with the most trusted organizations in this space, including Catchafire, Taproot Foundation, BoardSource and VolunteerMatch.”

Bad Data

Bad Data is a site providing real-world examples of how not to prepare or provide data. It showcases the poorly structured, the mis-formatted, or the just plain ugly. Its primary purpose is to educate – though there may also be some aspect of entertainment.
As a side-product it also provides a source of good practice material for budding data wranglers (the repo in fact began as a place to keep practice data for Data Explorer).
New examples wanted and welcome – submit them here »


Open data movement faces fresh hurdles

SciDevNet: “The open-data community made great strides in 2013 towards increasing the reliability of and access to information, but more efforts are needed to increase its usability on the ground and the general capacity of those using it, experts say.
An international network of innovation hubs, the first extensive open data certification system and a data for development partnership are three initiatives launched last year by the fledgling Open Data Institute (ODI), a UK-based not-for-profit firm that champions the use of open data to aid social, economic and environmental development.
Before open data can be used effectively the biggest hurdles to be cleared are agreeing common formats for data sets and improving their trustworthiness and searchability, says the ODI’s chief statistician, Ulrich Atz.
“As it is so new, open data is often inconsistent in its format, making it difficult to reuse. We see a great need for standards and tools,” he tells SciDev.Net. Data that is standardised is of “incredible value” he says, because this makes it easier and faster to use and gives it a longer useable lifetime.
The ODI — which celebrated its first anniversary last month — is attempting to achieve this with a first-of-its-kind certification system that gives publishers and users important details about online data sets, including publishers’ names and contact information, the type of sharing licence, the quality of information and how long it will be available.
Certificates encourage businesses and governments to make use of open data by guaranteeing their quality and usability, and making them easier to find online, says Atz.
Finding more and better ways to apply open data will also be supported by a growing network of ODI ‘nodes’: centres that bring together companies, universities and NGOs to support open-data projects and communities….
Because lower-income countries often lack well-established data collection systems, they have greater freedom to rethink how data are collected and how they flow between governments and civil society, he says.
But there is still a long way to go. Open-data projects currently rely on governments and other providers sharing their data on online platforms, whereas in a truly effective system, information would be published in an open format from the start, says Davies.
Furthermore, even where advances are being made at a strategic level, open-data initiatives are still having only a modest impact in the real world, he says.
“Transferring [progress at a policy level] into availability of data on the ground and the capacity to use it is a lot tougher and slower,” Davies says.”

Open Development (Networked Innovations in International Development)

New book edited by Matthew L. Smith and Katherine M. A. Reilly (Foreword by Yochai Benkler) : “The emergence of open networked models made possible by digital technology has the potential to transform international development. Open network structures allow people to come together to share information, organize, and collaborate. Open development harnesses this power, to create new organizational forms and improve people’s lives; it is not only an agenda for research and practice but also a statement about how to approach international development. In this volume, experts explore a variety of applications of openness, addressing challenges as well as opportunities.
Open development requires new theoretical tools that focus on real world problems, consider a variety of solutions, and recognize the complexity of local contexts. After exploring the new theoretical terrain, the book describes a range of cases in which open models address such specific development issues as biotechnology research, improving education, and access to scholarly publications. Contributors then examine tensions between open models and existing structures, including struggles over privacy, intellectual property, and implementation. Finally, contributors offer broader conceptual perspectives, considering processes of social construction, knowledge management, and the role of individual intent in the development and outcomes of social models.”

New Book: Open Data Now

New book by Joel Gurin (The GovLab): “Open Data is the world’s greatest free resource–unprecedented access to thousands of databases–and it is one of the most revolutionary developments since the Information Age began. Combining two major trends–the exponential growth of digital data and the emerging culture of disclosure and transparency–Open Data gives you and your business full access to information that has never been available to the average person until now. Unlike most Big Data, Open Data is transparent, accessible, and reusable in ways that give it the power to transform business, government, and society.
Open Data Now is an essential guide to understanding all kinds of open databases–business, government, science, technology, retail, social media, and more–and using those resources to your best advantage. You’ll learn how to tap crowds for fast innovation, conduct research through open collaboration, and manage and market your business in a transparent marketplace.
Open Data is open for business–and the opportunities are as big and boundless as the Internet itself. This powerful, practical book shows you how to harness the power of Open Data in a variety of applications:

  • HOT STARTUPS: turn government data into profitable ventures
  • SAVVY MARKETING: understand how reputational data drives your brand
  • DATA-DRIVEN INVESTING: apply new tools for business analysis
  • CONSUMER IN FORMATION: connect with your customers using smart disclosure
  • GREEN BUSINESS: use data to bet on sustainable companies
  • FAST R&D: turn the online world into your research lab
  • NEW OPPORTUNITIES: explore open fields for new businesses

Whether you’re a marketing professional who wants to stay on top of what’s trending, a budding entrepreneur with a billion-dollar idea and limited resources, or a struggling business owner trying to stay competitive in a changing global market–or if you just want to understand the cutting edge of information technology–Open Data Now offers a wealth of big ideas, strategies, and techniques that wouldn’t have been possible before Open Data leveled the playing field.
The revolution is here and it’s now. It’s Open Data Now.”

Supporting open government in New Europe

Google Europe Blog: “The “New Europe” countries that joined the European Union over the past decade are moving ahead fast to use the Internet to improve transparency and open government. We recently partnered with Techsoup Global to support online projects driving forward good governance in Romania, the Czech Republic, and most recently, in Slovakia.
Techsoup Global, in partnership with the Slovak Center for Philanthropy, recently held an exciting social-startups awards ceremony Restart Slovakia 2013 in Bratislava. Slovakia’s Deputy Minister of Finance and Digital Champion Peter Pellegrini delivered keynote promoting Internet and Open Data and announced the winners of this year contest. Ambassadors from U.S., Israel and Romania and several distinguished Slovak NGOs also attended the ceremony.
Winning projects included:

  • Vzdy a vsade – Always and Everywhere – a volunteer portal offering online and anonymous psychological advice to internet users via chat.
  • – a portal providing counsel for victims of sexual assaults.
  • Co robim – an educational online library of job careers advising young people how to choose their career paths and dream jobs.
  • Mapa zlocinu – an online map displaying various rates of criminality in different neighbourhoods.
  • – a platform focused on analyzing public statements of politicians and releasing information about politicians and truthfulness of their speeches in a user-friendly format.”

Why the Nate Silvers of the World Don’t Know Everything

Felix Salmon in Wired: “This shift in US intelligence mirrors a definite pattern of the past 30 years, one that we can see across fields and institutions. It’s the rise of the quants—that is, the ascent to power of people whose native tongue is numbers and algorithms and systems rather than personal relationships or human intuition. Michael Lewis’ Moneyball vividly recounts how the quants took over baseball, as statistical analy­sis trumped traditional scouting and propelled the underfunded Oakland A’s to a division-winning 2002 season. More recently we’ve seen the rise of the quants in politics. Commentators who “trusted their gut” about Mitt Romney’s chances had their gut kicked by Nate Silver, the stats whiz who called the election days before­hand as a lock for Obama, down to the very last electoral vote in the very last state.
The reason the quants win is that they’re almost always right—at least at first. They find numerical patterns or invent ingenious algorithms that increase profits or solve problems in ways that no amount of subjective experience can match. But what happens after the quants win is not always the data-driven paradise that they and their boosters expected. The more a field is run by a system, the more that system creates incentives for everyone (employees, customers, competitors) to change their behavior in perverse ways—providing more of whatever the system is designed to measure and produce, whether that actually creates any value or not. It’s a problem that can’t be solved until the quants learn a little bit from the old-fashioned ways of thinking they’ve displaced.
No matter the discipline or industry, the rise of the quants tends to happen in four stages. Stage one is what you might call pre-disruption, and it’s generally best visible in hindsight. Think about quaint dating agencies in the days before the arrival of Match .com and all the other algorithm-powered online replacements. Or think about retail in the era before floor-space management analytics helped quantify exactly which goods ought to go where. For a live example, consider Hollywood, which, for all the money it spends on market research, is still run by a small group of lavishly compensated studio executives, all of whom are well aware that the first rule of Hollywood, as memorably summed up by screenwriter William Goldman, is “Nobody knows anything.” On its face, Hollywood is ripe for quantifi­cation—there’s a huge amount of data to be mined, considering that every movie and TV show can be classified along hundreds of different axes, from stars to genre to running time, and they can all be correlated to box office receipts and other measures of profitability.
Next comes stage two, disruption. In most industries, the rise of the quants is a recent phenomenon, but in the world of finance it began back in the 1980s. The unmistakable sign of this change was hard to miss: the point at which you started getting targeted and personalized offers for credit cards and other financial services based not on the relationship you had with your local bank manager but on what the bank’s algorithms deduced about your finances and creditworthiness. Pretty soon, when you went into a branch to inquire about a loan, all they could do was punch numbers into a computer and then give you the computer’s answer.
For a present-day example of disruption, think about politics. In the 2012 election, Obama’s old-fashioned campaign operatives didn’t disappear. But they gave money and freedom to a core group of technologists in Chicago—including Harper Reed, former CTO of the Chicago-based online retailer Threadless—and allowed them to make huge decisions about fund-raising and voter targeting. Whereas earlier campaigns had tried to target segments of the population defined by geography or demographic profile, Obama’s team made the campaign granular right down to the individual level. So if a mom in Cedar Rapids was on the fence about who to vote for, or whether to vote at all, then instead of buying yet another TV ad, the Obama campaign would message one of her Facebook friends and try the much more effective personal approach…
After disruption, though, there comes at least some version of stage three: over­shoot. The most common problem is that all these new systems—metrics, algo­rithms, automated decisionmaking processes—result in humans gaming the system in rational but often unpredictable ways. Sociologist Donald T. Campbell noted this dynamic back in the ’70s, when he articulated what’s come to be known as Campbell’s law: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making,” he wrote, “the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”…
Policing is a good example, as explained by Harvard sociologist Peter Moskos in his book Cop in the Hood: My Year Policing Baltimore’s Eastern District. Most cops have a pretty good idea of what they should be doing, if their goal is public safety: reducing crime, locking up kingpins, confiscating drugs. It involves foot patrols, deep investigations, and building good relations with the community. But under statistically driven regimes, individual officers have almost no incentive to actually do that stuff. Instead, they’re all too often judged on results—specifically, arrests. (Not even convictions, just arrests: If a suspect throws away his drugs while fleeing police, the police will chase and arrest him just to get the arrest, even when they know there’s no chance of a conviction.)…
It’s increasingly clear that for smart organizations, living by numbers alone simply won’t work. That’s why they arrive at stage four: synthesis—the practice of marrying quantitative insights with old-fashioned subjective experience. Nate Silver himself has written thoughtfully about examples of this in his book, The Signal and the Noise. He cites baseball, which in the post-Moneyball era adopted a “fusion approach” that leans on both statistics and scouting. Silver credits it with delivering the Boston Red Sox’s first World Series title in 86 years. Or consider weather forecasting: The National Weather Service employs meteorologists who, understanding the dynamics of weather systems, can improve forecasts by as much as 25 percent compared with computers alone. A similar synthesis holds in eco­nomic forecasting: Adding human judgment to statistical methods makes results roughly 15 percent more accurate. And it’s even true in chess: While the best computers can now easily beat the best humans, they can in turn be beaten by humans aided by computers….
That’s what a good synthesis of big data and human intuition tends to look like. As long as the humans are in control, and understand what it is they’re controlling, we’re fine. It’s when they become slaves to the numbers that trouble breaks out. So let’s celebrate the value of disruption by data—but let’s not forget that data isn’t everything.

From Faith-Based to Evidence-Based: The Open Data 500 and Understanding How Open Data Helps the American Economy

Beth Noveck in Forbes: “Public funds have, after all, paid for their collection, and the law says that federal government data are not protected by copyright. By the end of 2009, the US and the UK had the only two open data one-stop websites where agencies could post and citizens could find open data. Now there are over 300 such portals for government data around the world with over 1 million available datasets. This kind of Open Data — including weather, safety and public health information as well as information about government spending — can serve the country by increasing government efficiency, shedding light on regulated industries, and driving innovation and job creation.

It’s becoming clear that open data has the potential to improve people’s lives. With huge advances in data science, we can take this data and turn it into tools that help people choose a safer hospital, pick a better place to live, improve the performance of their farm or business by having better climate models, and know more about the companies with whom they are doing business. Done right, people can even contribute data back, giving everyone a better understanding, for example of nuclear contamination in post-Fukushima Japan or incidences of price gouging in America’s inner cities.

The promise of open data is limitless. (see the GovLab index for stats on open data) But it’s important to back up our faith with real evidence of what works. Last September the GovLab began the Open Data 500 project, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, to study the economic value of government Open Data extensively and rigorously.  A recent McKinsey study pegged the annual global value of Open Data (including free data from sources other than government), at $3 trillion a year or more. We’re digging in and talking to those companies that use Open Data as a key part of their business model. We want to understand whether and how open data is contributing to the creation of new jobs, the development of scientific and other innovations, and adding to the economy. We also want to know what government can do better to help industries that want high quality, reliable, up-to-date information that government can supply. Of those 1 million datasets, for example, 96% are not updated on a regular basis.

The GovLab just published an initial working list of 500 American companies that we believe to be using open government data extensively.  We’ve also posted in-depth profiles of 50 of them — a sample of the kind of information that will be available when the first annual Open Data 500 study is published in early 2014. We are also starting a similar study for the UK and Europe.

Even at this early stage, we are learning that Open Data is a valuable resource. As my colleague Joel Gurin, author of Open Data Now: the Secret to Hot Start-Ups, Smart Investing, Savvy Marketing and Fast Innovation, who directs the project, put it, “Open Data is a versatile and powerful economic driver in the U.S. for new and existing businesses around the country, in a variety of ways, and across many sectors. The diversity of these companies in the kinds of data they use, the way they use it, their locations, and their business models is one of the most striking things about our findings so far.” Companies are paradoxically building value-added businesses on top of public data that anyone can access for free….”

FULL article can be found here.

Entrepreneurs Shape Free Data Into Money

Angus Loten in the Wall Street Journal: “More cities are putting information on everything from street-cleaning schedules to police-response times and restaurant inspection reports in the public domain, in the hope that people will find a way to make money off the data.
Supporters of such programs often see them as a local economic stimulus plan, allowing software developers and entrepreneurs in cities ranging from San Francisco to South Bend, Ind., to New York, to build new businesses based on the information they get from government websites.
When Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti issued an executive directive last month to launch the city’s open-data program, he cited entrepreneurs and businesses as important beneficiaries. Open-data promotes innovation and “gives companies, individuals, and nonprofit organizations the opportunity to leverage one of government’s greatest assets: public information,” according to the Dec. 18 directive.
A poster child for the movement might be 34-year-old Matt Ehrlichman of Seattle, who last year built an online business in part using Seattle work permits, professional licenses and other home-construction information gathered up by the city’s Department of Planning and Development.
While his website is free, his business, called, has more than 80 employees and charges a $35 monthly fee to industry professionals who want to boost the visibility of their projects on the site.
The site gathers raw public data—such as addresses for homes under renovation, what they are doing, who is doing the work and how much they are charging—and combines it with photos and other information from industry professionals and homeowners. It then creates a searchable database for users to compare ideas and costs for projects near their own neighborhood.
…Ian Kalin, director of open-data services at Socrata, a Seattle-based software firm that makes the back-end applications for many of these government open-data sites, says he’s worked with hundreds of companies that were formed around open data.
Among them is Climate Corp., a San Francisco-based firm that collects weather and yield-forecasting data to help farmers decide when and where to plant crops. Launched in 2006, the firm was acquired in October by Monsanto Co. MON -2.90% , the seed-company giant, for $930 million.
Overall, the rate of new business formation declined nationally between 2006 and 2010. But according to the latest data from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, an entrepreneurship advocacy group in Kansas City, Mo., the rate of new business formation in Seattle in 2011 rose 9.41% in 2011, compared with the national average of 3.9%.
Other cities where new business formation was ahead of the national average include Chicago, Austin, Texas, Baltimore, and South Bend, Ind.—all cities that also have open-data programs. Still, how effective the ventures are in creating jobs is difficult to gauge.
One wrinkle: privacy concerns about the potential for information—such as property tax and foreclosure data—to be misused.
Some privacy advocates fear that government data that include names, addresses and other sensitive information could be used by fraudsters to target victims.”