Public Data Is More Important Than Ever–And Now It’s Easier To Find

Meg Miller at Co.Design: “Public data, in theory, is meant to be accessible to everyone. But in practice, even finding it can be near impossible, to say nothing of figuring out what to do with it once you do. Government data websites are often clunky and outdated, and some data is still trapped on physical media–like CDs or individual hard drives.

Tens of thousands of these CDs and hard drives, full of data on topics from Arkansas amusement parks to fire incident reporting, have arrived at the doorstep of the New York-based start-up Enigma over the past four years. The company has obtained thousands upon thousands more datasets by way of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Enigma specializes in open data: gathering it, curating it, and analyzing it for insights into a client’s industry, for example, or for public service initiatives.

Enigma also shares its 100,000 datasets with the world through an online platform called Public—the broadest collection of public data that is open and searchable by everyone. Public has been around since Enigma launched in 2013, but today the company is introducing a redesigned version of the site that’s fresher and more user-friendly, with easier navigation and additional features that allow users to drill further down into the data.

But while the first iteration of Public was mostly concerned with making Enigma’s enormous trove of data—which it was already gathering and reformating for client work—accessible to the public, the new site focuses more on linking that data in new ways. For journalists, researchers, and data scientists, the tool will offer more sophisticated ways of making sense of the data that they have access to through Enigma….

…the new homepage also curates featured datasets and collections to enforce a sense of discoverability. For example, an Enigma-curated collection of U.S. sanctions data from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) shows data on the restrictions on entities or individuals that American companies can and can’t do business with in an effort to achieve specific national security or foreign policy objectives. A new round of sanctions against Russia have been in the news lately as an effort by President Trump to loosen restrictions on blacklisted businesses and individuals in Russia was overruled by the Senate last week. Enigma’s curated data selection on U.S. sanctions could help journalists contextualize recent events with data that shows changes in sanctions lists over time by presidential administration, for instance–or they could compare the U.S. sanctions list to the European Union’s….(More).