Open Raleigh and Open Data: Definitions


Above is a heat map of geospatial data from the
City of Raleigh's Open Data Portal
This is a reuse of a great post on by +Jason Hibbets. See the Creative Commons attribute at the end of this post.

Open Raleigh

One of the keys to a successful open data portal is to make it useful for the end user. Citizens and developers should be able to understand data sets without needing a PhD. Many folks have followed the progress of Raleigh, North Carolina's open data initiative, which launched a beta of their portal in March 2013.

One of the most important parts of Raleigh's open data initiative is that it's not just about the data. The city staff working on the data policy and the open data portal have a full and complete understanding that presenting raw data sets only gets you halfway to your open data mission. Without visualization tools or a way for the average person to understand what the data means, the job is only half done. They also understand that providing the right data sets can help spur innovation and create new businesses—which is why they are spending a lot of time trying to understand which data is most important to the Raleigh community.

Community Collaboration with Civic Leaders

 This is one of those rare occasion where I share some of what I do on a day to day basis and not make this about open data in general. The following is an interview I did a few months ago with +Jason Hibbets. Jason and I have been colleagues and co-conspirators since I started with the City of Raleigh in September of 2012.

This interview is in Jason Hibbets' new book "The Foundation for an Open Source City". Getting to work with people like Jason Hibbets, +Reid Serozi, our City Council, the City of Raleigh staff and government leaders around the Triangle has been a life changing experience.

Comments on the State of Open Data

I have changed the interview format from questions to statements followed by my own definition. Feel free to disagree with me and give me your feedback on how you see open data.

A Short Definition of Open Data in the City of Raleigh

 Open data is the information infrastructure of the City of Raleigh. When we say "data as infrastructure" we are referring to open data. Open data, open government, and the freedom of information laws are related and have overlap, but are not the same thing. Open data follows cultural, ethical, and technical rules. Ultimately, open data is defined as data sets created by a government entity and made available to the public. The data sets that are released follow the Open Knowledge Foundation (OKFN) guidelines that govern the machine readability, structural issues, and ethical issues of the data released. Our resolution is based on the OKFN guidelines.

The Importance of the Open Data Manager Role

 The City of Raleigh wanted an open data manager to ensure that the open data program is developed in a way that is sustainable, transparent, and accessible. Having an open data manager demonstrates Raleigh's commitment to the idea of "open" in regards to data-driven policy development and community engagement.

The Raleigh Vision of Open Data

The short answer is open data is the start of an acculturation process leading to a transparent and collaborative relationship between city government and citizens.

Open data is a necessary but not sufficient effort in that acculturation process. Open Raleigh, as a brand, will emphasize data accessibility and information usability. We are not tying ourselves to a particular technology. We are building an infrastructure using several technologies to deliver information that is the narrative of the city.

The Importance of Data Visualization and the Democratization of Data

There is no transparency without data usability. Tabular rows of numbers and machine readable formats of GIS shape data and CSV's of budget numbers are going to be there for those that want to analyze the raw data themselves. For the other 99% of the rest of us, there will be visualizations that explain the numbers.

Raleigh as a Leader in Open Data

We build on the work of the pioneers of the open data community and take lessons learned. I have spoken with most of the leaders within the open data community, with several citizen groups within Raleigh, and most of the city government leaders. We will adhere to the emerging global data standard and the ethical standards of open data as put forth by the OKFN.

We are developing our own principles that match the culture of our city. Open Raleigh will be different than most North American efforts. We are emphasizing engagement and interactivity with our data. It is important to me that the citizen experience is visually compelling and informative. Health, culture, law, economics, science, and education will all be open topics. Anything that affects the quality of life of our citizens will be reflected in the data we share through Open Raleigh.

None of this happens overnight. We start with the infrastructure and build out. This will be an iterative experience. The open data manager will not be the final arbitrator of what Open Raleigh becomes. It will be the citizens and City working together in governance over Open Raleigh.


Adapted from 'The foundation for an open source city,' (c) 2013 Jason Hibbets, published under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license, available at


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