Open Data: What Is It and Why Should You Care?

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[Commentary] Though the debate about open data in government is an evolving one, it is indisputably here to stay -- it can be heard in both houses of Congress, in state legislatures, and in city halls around the nation.

Already, 39 states and 46 localities provide data sets to, the federal government's online open data repository. And 30 jurisdictions, including the federal government, have taken the additional step of institutionalizing their practices in formal open data policies.

Though the term "open data" is spoken of frequently -- and has been since President Barack Obama took office in 2009 -- what it is and why it's important isn't always clear.

“People tend to conflate it with big data," said Emily Shaw, the national policy manager at the Sunlight Foundation, "and I think it’s useful to think about how it’s different from big data in the sense that open data is the idea that public information should be accessible to the public online."

Among the benefits of open data are improved measurement of policies, better government efficiency, deeper analytical insights, greater citizen participation, and a boost to local companies by way of products and services that use government data. “The way I personally think of open data,” Shaw said, “is that it is a manifestation of the idea of open government."

Open Data: What Is It and Why Should You Care?