Opinion

Open data opens doors to transparency and opportunity

The state this week launched OpenDataPA, a public open data portal, at data.pa.gov.
The state this week launched OpenDataPA, a public open data portal, at data.pa.gov.

This week, Pennsylvania joined the majority of states, as well as the federal government, cities and municipalities by launching a public open data portal. While the Keystone State is not the first to embrace open data, the opportunities it creates are nonetheless exciting.

Before I go any further, you may be asking yourself, “What is open data and why does it matter?” Simply put, it is data that anyone can access, use and share. It can be exported into spreadsheets, leveraged by apps and combined with other data, among many other practical applications for both private and public sector initiatives.

And why does it matter? Open data has the potential to increase transparency to the public, support learning and discovery in our universities and research institutions, spur innovation and growth in our economy, and improve civic engagement.

Let’s use government performance as an example. In the past, departments published lengthy reports with an abundance of bar charts and graphs to show the results they were achieving on behalf of taxpayers.

The Wolf administration’s open data initiative takes performance transparency a step further by providing the raw data behind the analog reports of the past. OpenDataPA also will consolidate datasets from other state agency websites to create a one-stop shop for all of the commonwealth’s open data.

With the launch of OpenDataPA at data.pa.gov, the public now has access to datasets that demonstrate the progress state agencies are achieving in education, job creation, infrastructure and government efficiency.

The datasets we released with the launch of OpenDataPA are just the beginning. We are partnering with stakeholders — including the Office of Open Records, colleges and universities, and cities — to identify and prioritize future datasets for publication. There is also an online suggestion form on data.pa.gov for new datasets.

As the commonwealth’s open data initiative continues to grow, we look forward to seeing how the data is used by researchers, entrepreneurs, developers and policymakers and what we can learn. Among the Wolf administration’s many transparency achievements, OpenDataPA is the next step toward making Pennsylvania government more open, accountable and innovative.

Sharon Minnich is Pennsylvania secretary of administration.

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