Open for Data! What Does Open Data Mean to Oakland County

I will venture to state that most people that have worked for an organization have heard their boss/employer proclaim, “I have an open door policy and everyone is welcome to come by and see me.” You probably ventured up to the boss’ office to be told that you will need to schedule an appointment. Frustrating as that may seem, what probably happened was that there was a disconnect in communication as to what was really meant by an “open door policy.” This very same problem is exhibited in the realm of open data. The term open data has been thrown around the world of technology like a rubber ball and the definitions have changed just as often. I will attempt in this blog, to frame what open data means to Oakland County.

As usual, I began my search online for a definition and landed at Wikipedia for this version of open data, “Open data is the idea that some data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control.” In other words, data that can be used by anyone, anywhere and for any purpose. This definition sounds simple, but the policies and effort to supply open data are anything but simple. There are always concerns that the data will be used for improper purpose, but defined by whom? One big issue is the decision as to what data should be placed out on the internet for mass consumption. Will the data be timely and accurate? When the data is mashed up with other data sets, what story will it tell? Many in government fear that the data will tell a story that is not an accurate depiction of reality. This is a risk we have to take if we want to engage our citizens in a more thoughtful way.

At Oakland County, we are thoughtfully providing sets of data that can help anyone for any purpose they so choose — as long as it is lawful, of course! Our first data release will include geospatial data from our Geographic Information System or GIS. Over the years, we have gathered an incredible amount of map-based data that can now be used to help people solve problems on a daily basis. We believe that every service, function or process can be associated with a location on the Earth and we intend to enable people to enhance their data with geospatial data. Over time the new open data portal, Access Oakland, will be stocked with additional sets of data to enhance the overall experience of engaging with county government.

Please join us in welcoming a new open data portal, Access Oakland!

Phil Bertolini, Oakland County Deputy Executive/CIO