Open Public Data

Feb 1, 2019, 5 minute read
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Stardog is a great way to implement the new OPEN Government Data Act. Let’s learn why and how.


Despite the partial government shutdown, which ended just a few days ago as I write this, legislation is still being passed and some of it is actually welcome and good. I’m referring to the unheralded new OPEN Government Data Act, which was signed into law earlier this year as part of the larger Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act.

We’re proud to work and live in and near Washington, DC. We’re especially proud to see the US Congress taking steps towards more accountability and rationality in policy and government decision making.

We care about data unification because we believe in a world in which large organizations particularly use all the data at their disposal to make evidence-based, data-driven, good strategic decisions and that certainly includes governments. Data silos and legacy IT systems are too often an impediment to good decision making and Stardog is dedicated to the proposition that there’s a better way.

What is OPEN Government Data?

The new legislation requires federal agencies to adopt a new posture and strategy about data. In short, it changes the default presumption to one in which data should be made available (“public”) in formats that are accessible by license (“open”) and machine-readable (“electronic”). One of the perpetual struggles for policy makers in the digital age is mandating principles of data accessibility without biasing markets or creating winners and losers unnecessarily by mandating proprietary vendor solutions.

This is not a new craze of the digital age. The US Constitution actually requires regular data gathering on the part of the government, for the decennial census, which generates a lot of very important data about the population. But of course all other agencies have various information gathering mandates; in fact, one of the effects of the recent shutdown was that some government funded information gathering efforts were, well, shut down. Some of that data about climate, for example, will just be forever missing.

So the government is an important source of public data but to date the presumption at the policy level has been that this data wouldn’t be available to the public. The new legislation not only flips that presumption but it goes further:

  1. it specifies open data without biasing to a particular technology
  2. it establishes some minimal standards for what open public data looks like
  3. it requires agencies to base policy decision making on open data
  4. it establishes oversight mechanisms
  5. it establishes CDOs at federal agencies, which normalizes them with respect to the rise of CDO in non-government large organizations

These are very good things for the citizenry of the US, including businesses here, and elsewhere, whose collective tax dollars fund all that data collection in the first place.

While we have reason to be skeptical about #3, since it’s not an easy thing to mandate, this is all “directionally correct” and we’re excited about it.

What about outside the US?

The EU has really established itself over the past 10 years as the global leader in open public data from government. While I’m not familar with the policy landscape and mechanisms that created such a climate, it’s been well known for years that the open public data movement in the EU has been successful in creating a climate in which an “data commons” for the EU is a reality. I’m not prepared to argue that such a data climate has led to better policy outcomes, but either way we all know that data in the right context is evidence and policy making based on evidence is better than the alternative.

In fact, Stardog has played a role in the EU in some of these initiatives and successes. We can count among our customers several public EU entities: Norwegian Agency for Public Management, the Federal Republic of Germany, the Swiss government, as well as the City of Basel. Further afield, the Australian Bureau of Statistics is also a Stardog customer.

Why Stardog?

Inside the US’s National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institute has led the way in publicly accessible research data in oncology and uses Stardog Enterprise Knowledge Graph to accomplish it. We’re proud to say that cancer researchers use Stardog every day to search and understand the complex “cancer graph” that spans many different data sources and silos, including the large NCI Thesaurus.

But looking more broadly, what kind of mandate does the OPEN Act require of all federal agencies? The Data Coalition, which is an industry group that advocated for passage of OPEN, put it this way:

The OPEN Government Data Act also requires agencies to maintain, and publish, a comprehensive data inventory of all data assets. The data inventory will help agencies and open data advocates identify key government information resources and transform them from documents and siloed databases into open data.

I can’t think of a clearer mandate for Knowledge Graphs inside federal agencies than the idea that data is transformed, from “documents and siloed databases”, into open, connected data.

This general movement, which is part of a larger IT trend generally, away from databases and documents and toward data, that is, away from the details of IT systems and toward connected knowledge is precisely the trend that Stardog is leading and we’re excited to see how the new federal mandate contributes to this progress.

Learn more about what a Knowledge Graph is and how it can connect your data, no matter where it is or what type it is.

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