The Future is What Happens When People Embrace Open Data

Open data is a thing, an idea, and an ideal. Open data is one of those "superhero words" alongside its cousins the Cloud and Big Data. I like to call them superhero words because they are supernatural forces that seemingly defy definition and can't be seen. Yet they provide very tangible value to their communities.


Open data boasts powers like omnipresence, super-flexibility, and hyper-prescience. All this, and it's all free!

No free lunch?

Perhaps you have heard it said, "There is no free lunch." Open data does challenge that idea when you look across the nation and see the power in providing civic data to people with the talent to make it come alive. According to an article in govtech, guidance exists that open data should be both "technically open" and "legally open". Translation:  open data is machine- readable and licensed to allow use without restriction [3]. 

Local Superheroes

We embrace Open Data this in Norfolk, Virginia with our own superhero groups like Code for Hampton Roads and the Open Data Initiative, to name just two. Both of these help form the bedrock of people who have decided to engage with civic leadership to make our home a better place.

"Once you’ve got a wide audience, you can begin to use your open data to drive citizens to actually doing things with it and implementing broad change."

Consider this fantastic story of people answering the call. The time is 2014 and a local Brigade of Code for America holds its annual hackathon to support the community. When you live in a place close to the water, travel routes quickly become choke points - that creates a problem for transit service schedules [4].

"find places where people with technical skills can make a difference" -Kevin Curry 

This group of technical experts from Code for Hampton Roads decides to help put transit data to good use by creating a mobile app that provides actual bus arrival times accurate to within a minute or two. The cost to the city of Norfolk - opening a data port. The HRT Bus Finder app is still in use today, and the Brigade maintains it as a free, volunteer effort. {Truth be told, their weekly work usually does involve the cost of a pizza or two.}

Great work citizens! Keep it up. Do you want to be a superhero?

But be careful...citizens in action are unrelenting superheroes that just keep going and going. Thank goodness.


{blog originally appeared in https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/future-what-happens-whe...}

Cited Works:

1. [Image of Comic] By "Tales of Suspense #39" at The Grand Comics Database. Retrieved March 4, 2005., Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1569163.

2. [Image of Iron Man] At Marvel Comics' official website. Retrieved May 21, 2010., Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27426317.

3. Shueh, J. (2014, March 17). Open data: What is it and why should you care [Web blog]. Retrieved from http://www.govtech.com/data/Got-Data-Make-it-Open-Data-with-These-T....

4. Grimes, C. (2014, July 23). Hampton Roads transit agencies turning to apps that provide real-time bus schedule information. The Daily Press. Retrieved from http://www.dailypress.com/news/traffic/dp-nws-regional-transit-apps....

Jay Gendron is a data scientist, business leader, artist, and author who lives in Norfolk, Virginia and writes about how good questions and compelling visualization make analytics accessible to decision makers. He is an award-winning speaker who has presented internationally. He is a member of Code for Hampton Roads and is proud of the work they do contributing skills to improve civic and municipal access to data. He is the founder of the Meetup "try.Py - Learn Python"

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Tags: community, data, open, outreach, science


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Comment by William Pawlowsky on January 20, 2017 at 9:37am


Thank you for a piece that I hope will encourage more people to get the most of what Open Data is. I'm a librarian by training and Big Data has fascinated me for some time and starting out once again four years after my first attempt at learning Python. Hope 2017 will be more fruitful than 2013! Cheerz,



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