Three quick wins for your open gov initiative

31 January 2012 | Nik Garkusha, Open Platforms Lead, Microsoft Canada

If you’re a government agency planning a Gov 2.0/open gov/open data initiative, keep in mind these three simple strategies for quick, strategic wins:

1. Review the terms of use

Even if your agency doesn’t have an open data policy, your agency’s website could have potentially restrictive terms of use policies. When looking at enabling government as a platform, one quick way to help you build momentum is to review and revise your site’s terms of use. Are your terms of use explicitly preventing someone from using or even linking to your site’s information? Citizens that want to leverage and re-use public information on your site - for example, waste pickup schedules, council information, or ward boundaries - may be legally bound from doing so. Ensure that this type of information isn’t restricted by "sweeping" terms of use policies. It can be as simple as revising the footer of your web pages.

2. Publish the original files

Another quick win strategy is publishing the original "raw" files used to create the public information on your agency’s site. More often than not, the public is given access to HTML or print-ready documents in PDF format versus the original raw documents used to produce these PDF files. Don’t get me wrong, PDF format is great for "document integrity" and all, but is often totally useless for someone trying to automatically extract the data from it.

If you’re using a spreadsheet, document, or any other type of file format (including geospatial formats), offering up the raw files saves developers the headache of reverse-engineering documents that you could have just as easily published online in the original format.

3. Make open what’s already public

The last quick win strategy is identifying "low-hanging fruit" for open data - typically information that’s already public. My favorites are various geospatial datasets that you may be sharing today via maps, guides, etc. If your agency is using GIS (Geographic Information System) software, you can simply export and publish the data that was originally used to create those nice citizen-friendly guides and community maps. Some suggestions include maps of your agency’s facilities, geographical points of interest, parks, city and ward boundaries, etc. This GIS data can then power some very useful citizen-ready Gov 2.0 applications.

These are some simple but effective strategies to get the ball rolling with your Gov 2.0 initiatives. Good luck!

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Nik Garkusha
Open Platforms Lead, Microsoft Canada