Evolution of an Open Data Program

The first great challenge for any municipal data program is deciding what data to release.

The second great challenge for municipalities that embark on open data programs can be summed up in how they react to applications that get built with their data. This is particularly true if the apps that are built have not been fully considered by the municipality releasing the data.

Because of some work done by smart, passionate civic developers in Baltimore, this second challenge now confronts officials in Charm City:

“Whether web developers can use the city data to make applications that bring in revenue is still unknown. Baltimore officials released the data without providing terms of service to guide developers seeking to create applications for for-profit ventures.”

“Baltimore’s law department is crafting guidelines for how developers could use the data in such ventures,” said Rico Singleton, Baltimore’s chief information officer.

How Baltimore crafts the terms of service for their open data sets will dictate, to a large extent, how successful the program will ultimately be. Will there be more apps like SpotAgent? We’ll have to wait and see. I, for one, hope so.

It’s not surprising that governments struggle with this important milestone in the evolution of an open data program.

To a large extent, releasing open data means that governments abdicate control. There are typically some limitations on what developers can do with government data, but for the most part the creativity and personal ambitions of external developers are the engine that drives open data programs.

It can be a big leap for governments to give up this control, something that not all of them fully consider before the first data sets are released.

Here’s hoping that Baltimore officials take an approach that encourags the kind of app development that has resulted in SpotAgent. It would be great to see more of this.