Will ESRI allow public GIS data to be fully open government data?

As has been true for years, there’s a robust debate in municipal information technology world around the use of proprietary software or open source. An important element of that conversation centers on open data, specifically whether the formats used by companies are interoperable and “open,” in the sense of being usable by more than one kind of software. When the license required to use a given software application is expensive, that requirement can put budget-strapped cities and towns in a difficult position. Last week, former New York State Senate CIO Andrew Hoppin weighed in on the debate, writing about proprietary software lions and bears in the Civic Commons marketplace, a new online directory of civic software.

 I believe the Civic Commons Marketplace will ultimately save US taxpayers billions of dollars in government IT spending, while accelerating the propagation of technology-driven civic innovation in the bargain.  I’ve believed this for a while.   Thus, it’s a debate worth having; the Marketplace deserves attention, and critique.

In order to realize its potential, from my perspective as a recovering government CIO, I believe that the Civic Commons Marketplace must give equal billing to all software used in government, regardless of the software license associated with it.

Nick Grossman, the executive director of Civic Commons, chronicled the debate that Hoppin described in a Storify:

I talked with ESRI founder Jack Dangermond in September 2010 about how he was opening up ESRI and the role he saw for mapping in open government. My sense then, as now, is that this is an issue that’s deeply important to him.

There are clearly strong feelings in the civic development community about the company’s willingness to open up its data, along with what that means for how public data is coded and released. If you’re a GIS developer and have an opinion on this issue, please let us know in the comments.

Jack Dangermond on mapping, government transparency and accountability

Writing over at the ESRI blog today, founder and president Jack Dangermond shared his thoughts on how maps and GIS information can contribute to improving government transparency and accountability:

Born out of the Gov 2.0 movement, the terms transparency and accountability have become part of the daily vernacular of governments and the citizens they serve. One might even suggest these words have become a new expectation of governing. Transparency and accountability began with a simple concept of openly communicating public policy to the taxpayer. Today, these concepts are thriving within a growing emphasis on developing an interactive dialog between governments and the people.

Maps can be a very valuable part of transparency in government. Maps give people a greater understanding of the world around them. They can help tell stories and many times be more valuable than the data itself. They provide a context for taxpayers to better understand how spending or decisions are being made in a circumstance of where they work and live. Maps help us describe conditions and situations, and help tell stories, often related to one’s own understanding of content.

I spoke with Dangermond about precisely this subject last year at the Gov 2.0 Summit in Washington. I believe the interview holds up and remains relevant to the conversation around open government today.