By Tyler McBrien, Council on Foreign Relations
Data can be a powerful tool. Access to public education data can help parents and caregivers make informed decisions about schools. Access to easily readable congressional records can arm voters with the information on their elected officials. Access to digestible, transparent data, sometimes called "open data," in general can help citizens make more informed decisions and hold their governments accountable. But often that's just the problem: access.
Any number of reasons can account for a lack of open data. Government may not prioritize it and put their limited resources elsewhere. A simple lack of capacity could also explain why some governments seem to be a black box of data. It is also possible that some governments do not want to empower their citizens with data and actively hide it.
Whatever the reason, despite a wide acknowledgment that open data can be a benefit to society, good data can be hard to find for the average citizen. The stories in this collection portray citizen-led quests for open data. From the "guerilla archiving" events undertaken by the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative to preserve information that the Trump administration tried to erase, to Ugandan "village budget clubs" that gave residents an opportunity to oversee government budgeting and planning meetings, citizen entrepreneurs around the world are bypassing governments to get the data they need.
Click here for more stories in the Solutions Story Tracker on open data.
- The national nonprofit Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow network has 500 active observers throughout New Mexico alone. What are the advantages of this dispersed network, compared to a more traditional model of collecting data in one location (such as a university laboratory?).
- While we often think about research and data as the exclusive territory of trained scientific experts, stories such as Sruthi Gottipati's or Michael Hernandez's demonstrate that everyday citizens can play a pivotal role in the collection and use of data within their communities. What opportunities might be available within your own community for citizen-led open data projects? Are there any currently ongoing?
- Choose an Issue Area or a Success Factor related to strengthening democracy. Then, create a collection and select at least 4 (or more) stories from the Solution’s Story Tracker that relate to your topic. If working in groups, each group can present on the issues and solutions they found most compelling.
- Journalism is a collaborative practice: reporters are writing for their community, but they also depend on community members as sources for information. Indeed, the very purpose of journalism, according to the American Press Institute, is to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments. With that in mind, SJN wants to help connect news readers and journalists. Beside the name of the journalist on any of our story pages or the results page of the Solutions Story Tracker, you’ll find a Twitter icon that will link you directly to the journalists profile. Tweet at them with questions or compliments about their piece - you might be surprised by how much writers want to engage with their audiences! Don’t forget to tag us too (@soljourno) and use the hashtag #journalistintheclassroom if you are reading as part of an academic assignment.
- This wide-ranging dats gives the National Weather Service a better understanding of exactly where precipitation lands and improves lead time for severe storm and flood warnings.
- Answers will vary. For assistance finding open-data projects in your region, search the "open data" tag in the Solutions Story Tracker and refine the search by your city/state.