What is "open data" and why bother?

Government data is a valuable public resource that, when accessible by every community member, can be a powerful tool to support the goals and values of the community. Cities and counties around the country are making an effort to ensure the data they hold is freely and easily available to the public by embracing and institutionalizing the practice of “open data.” What is open data? Basically, open data refers to data (such as documents, databases, records, or transcripts, including those managed by outside vendors) released by a government or organization that is: - freely available to be used, shared, and reused by anyone for any purpose, commercial or otherwise. - available in digital, machine-readable formats (such as .csv) so that it can be used in combination with other data and applications. - available in its entirety — and able to be downloaded “in bulk” and not just manually retrieved record-by-record.

There are many benefits of opening data. By opening data in machine-readable formats, governments can drive internal efficiency, spark community engagement, and fuel a civic tech ecosystem —to name just a few of the reasons your government might decide to pursue an open data initiative.

Further reading: The 8 Principles of Open Data lays out an in-depth definition of open data. For further definitions of key open data terms, see this Open Data Glossary.