News Feature | July 7, 2014

Open Data Roundtables Set Out To Make Data Accessible To Benefit Economy

By Trisha Leon, contributing writer

Open Data Roundtables

Open Data Roundtable meetings have begun, a step in the partnership of government agencies with industry to ensure that the data sets the government publishes directly benefit the economy.

In a GovLab Blog, Joel Gurin, senior advisor, explains, “The GovLab’s Open Data 500 study — the first comprehensive study of companies that use open government data as a key business resource — has given us the knowledge, context, and connections to serve as an effective convener for Roundtables like this. Our study, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, has mapped the linkages between federal agencies and the companies that use their data for the first time. Most agencies don’t know who is using their data, beyond the companies that are their largest customers, and most companies don’t have the federal contacts to request data in more useful forms.”

Bruce Andrews, the Commerce Department’s acting deputy secretary, wrote in a blog, “"We know that only by listening to the business community, partnering with industry, and collaborating with fellow government agencies can we best serve our customers and unleash the full power and potential of open data.”

InformationWeek reports the twelve agencies acting under the Commerce Department produce vast amounts of data, especially the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Census Bureau, the Patent and Trademark Office, and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. For example, NOAA assimilates 19 terabytes of data every day, which is twice the data of the entire printed collection of the Library of Congress. However, only two terabytes can be made easily accessible. But even this limited amount fuels a multi-billion dollar weather enterprise in the private sector.

The first of the roundtable meetings on June 18 focused on five critical areas: weather and climate data, geospatial and mapping data, economic and demographic data, technology and data management, and intellectual property. Discussed as well were data inventories, data interoperability, public-private partnerships, and channels for feedback from data users.

Mark Doms, Under Secretary for Economic Affairs, wrote in a blog post, “This initiative has significant potential to fuel new businesses; create jobs; and help federal, state, and local governments make better decisions.”

Doms also listed the key insights he took away from the June 18 Open Data Roundtable:

  • There is a strong desire for data consistency across the Commerce Department, and indeed the federal government. 
  • Data should be catalogued in a common, machine-readable format. 
  • Data should be accessible in bulk, allowing the private sector greater flexibility to harness the information. 
  • The use of a single platform for access to government data would create efficiencies and help coordination across agencies.

These roundtable meetings are a part of the Commerce departments Open for Business initiative, which seeks to leverage open data to catalyze the emergence of new businesses, products, and services.