The aim of the Opportunity Project is to help open up public data and foster its use, especially at local level.
The drive to make US government data available online stems from a simple fact: a huge amount of information relating to administration and government in the United States cannot currently be exploited because it is stored in antediluvian databases or contained in piles of paper documents spread out over countless town halls and administrative offices across the country. Such data, covering areas of crucial importance for US citizens, such as crime, education, transportation, tax matters and political campaign funding, could be used in thousands of ways to boost government efficiency, forge closer links between local authorities and the citizen, streamline the flow of information, make democracy generally more transparent, and so on.
This is the idea behind the Obama administration’s announcement last week that it was taking a further step towards opening up public data. The White House has launched The Opportunity Project, an initiative whose purpose is to make both federal and local data available and useable online. Developers with a sense of civic duty will then be free to exploit it in order to develop new tools so as to make government more transparent and efficient.
New platform for public data
At the moment the project site, part of the census.gov website, provides access to federal data, plus input from eight major cities, including New York, San Francisco and Washington D.C. Use of online data is increasingly being made at federal level, but local authorities often lack the resources to get initiatives in this field up and running, and this is the gap that Opportunity Project is mainly intended to plug. The US President – whose election success back in 2008 is thought to be due in part to the excellent use his team made of social networks and communication via digital channels – has, during his eight years in office, put a lot of effort into bringing the US administration into the 2.0 era
A 2.0 administration
In fact on the very day Barack Obama became President he launched the Open Government Initiative, which is intended to improve transparency, “creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government,” said Obama. This initiative has inter alia led to the creation of a website designed to ensure greater transparency on federal spending. In December, New York’s community centre for civic innovators, Civic Hall, launched an open government platform called NYC Councilmatic. A number of US cities have already set a good example in this field, the city of Oakland in the San Francisco Bay Area being one of the first in the country to open up its data and post to a transparent and intelligible budget online. Meanwhile the SimpliCity project running in Asheville, North Carolina provides citizens with a user-friendly platform on which to access city data and get quick answers to their questions. In San Francisco, startup NextRequest has developed a tool that enables citizens to request a copy of any public document and also helps the authorities to post documents online in such a way that anyone and everyone can view them easily.