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Democratize Your Data with CivicData.com

By now, I hope you’ve heard about the open data movement, and have seen how forward-thinking agencies are driving innovation by leveraging open data in hackathons and events like CityCamp Palo Alto. There are some shining examples of how open data is being used to add value and deliver services to communities.

This opportunity is huge and has undeniable potential to impact governing, civic engagement and government business. But the open data movement is in its infancy, and we have a long way to go before the real value of open data begins to be realized. Honest reflection tells us that today, a small fraction of agencies are actively providing open data, it’s complex and costly for them, and there are very few implemented standards—datasets are described in very different ways.

From a developer standpoint, these datasets are deployed uniquely for each jurisdiction. That makes it very difficult for the ecosystem of civic-minded developers, much less citizens, to make sense of or derive value from that data.

To that end, Accela today announced the beta availability of CivicData.com. We have shaped our approach to open data in a way that we feel will make it easier for agencies, developers and citizens to publish, view and derive value (and, unabashedly, these may also translate to reasons why you may wish to consider Accela for your open data). With CivicData.com, we intend to:

  • Radically simplify how open data is published and managed
  • Provide standard, cross-jurisdictional data in one place
  • Enable developers to build and deploy civic apps across multiple jurisdictions
  • Address the needs of agencies large and small
  • Make these capabilities free to Accela customers, Code for America Brigades and civic developers

Radically simplify how open data is published and managed
The first step is to make it easy to publish and manage open datasets. We’re taking this from a manual, ‘pull’ process where someone must define queries against source systems to a publishing model where we make it simple for Accela customers to define and update using a simple administrative capability, which we’re providing free of charge. And, we’re including the ability to support real-time dataset updates, dataset definitions and support for standards like House Facts and LIVES out of the box.

Provide standard, cross-jurisdictional data in one place
CivicData.com will become a destination for developers and citizens to find and use data from multiple jurisdictions. For the first time, civic developers will have access to information from across jurisdictions and regions—and that data will be described in the same way. Common semantics in how information is described will lead to development of new and innovative apps for government agencies, citizens and industry professionals.

Enable developers to build and deploy civic apps across multiple jurisdictions
We’re describing datasets consistently and providing standard APIs for developers to consume and manipulate them, so it will be significantly easier for developers to build civic applications that serve multiple jurisdictions. Our strategy is to make a critical mass of datasets available and aggressively recruit, enable and help developers build, sell and deploy applications to multiple agencies.

Address the needs of agencies large and small
Today, most agencies that are actively making datasets available are either larger entities, or they have discretionary resources to help find, extract and load data. We’re democratizing open data by providing the capabilities that agencies of all sizes need to easily publish and manage datasets, and to do so without needing a cadre of expensive resources.

Free to Accela customers, Code for America Brigades and civic developers
Did I mention that we’re changing the rules a bit? We’re betting that we can deliver more value to more agencies and their constituents by creating a critical mass of standard data across jurisdictions, and we’re willing to invest to make that happen. CivicData.com will be the place where that information will be managed, and we’ll aggressively support customers, brigades and developers to make this important public data available.

We’re really excited about this approach and how it can be a catalyst to unlock the value of open data. We’re removing significant barriers for agencies. We’re providing great opportunities for civic developers to build and scale solutions. Citizens will benefit from greater insight into their communities and new, innovative solutions that utilize this information.

We’re nearing an inflection point in the open data movement where we move from early to mainstream adoption, and our approach will spur that. Want to join? Visit CivicData.com to register today!

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