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.

Open data and maps tell the local story of unemployment and recovery spending

Washington-based DevelopmentSeed continues to tell dazzling data stories with open source mapping tools. This week, they’ve posted a map of the local impact of unemployment and recovery spending. The map visualizes unemployment rate changes at a county level and folds in total economic recovery spending by the government under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. In the map embedded below, red corresponds to an increased unemployment rate and green corresponds to a lower unemployment rate or job growth. Counties that received less than $10 million dollars in recovery spending have a white pattern.

David Cole explains more in a post at DevelopmentSeed.org:

Over the last year, we see that unemployment dropped in 58% of counties by an average of 0.25 percentage points. On average the Recovery Act funded 31 projects at a total of $24,131,582.47 per county. Nationally this works out to about $282.66 in recovery spending per person.

Overall, it’s impossible to tell for sure how much recovery spending improved the economic situation, because we just don’t know how bad things could have been. It may be the case that without spending, this map would have a lot more red. Or maybe not. What’s interesting here is the local impact and information we are able to see from processing a few sets of open data. Check out how your county is doing compared to its surroundings. How about compared to a more or less urban county nearby?


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WhiteHouse.gov puts data to use in its new federal property map.

As I reported at the O’Reilly Radar, The White House used interactive mapping and open data illustrate excess federal property around the United States. Check out the White House excess property map to see what that means in practice. I’ve embedded a similar map from MapBox below.

Selling excess federal property will be challenging. In contrast, open source mapping tools are making storytelling with data easier – and cheaper.