About the author: Sen. Heath Mello represents Nebraska’s 5th Legislative District in the Nebraska Unicameral.
Note: We invited Mello, a co-organizer of Hack Omaha, to share his thoughts on the public’s access to government data. (To learn more about Hack Omaha, a one-day programming competition focused on the use of government data, visit hackomaha.com.)
As local and state governments continue to wrestle with a wide range of ongoing policy challenges, one issue continues to stand out as an opportunity to help solve many problems with a simple stroke of the keyboard: releasing usable government data.
Transparency in government continues to be an ongoing issue facing not just the state government, but also city and county governments. Yes, budgets are sent to the Nebraska Auditor of Public Accounts every year and some Nebraska cities and counties provide more budgetary information on their websites to give the public more detail of where their tax dollars are currently being spent.
However, why isn’t that information in a usable-data format like Microsoft Excel?
As part of my interim study on government transparency, Legislative Resolution 501, I’ve begun exploring other aspects of state, city, county, and public power district data that is available to the public. We’ve found some interesting research thus far, but one issue that we have continually heard about is the lack of usable data from state and local governments.
I’ve heard everything from, “Why isn’t there a publicly available list of licensed child care facilities in Nebraska?” to “Why can’t I download my energy usage data from OPPD?” to “Why can’t I download a spreadsheet that shows what the City of Omaha spent last month?”
These questions are more than legitimate and deserve answers from government officials. Until we are able to finish up our interim study research, there is another opportunity for those interested in government data and entrepreneurship to play an active role in helping transform state and local governments. Hack Omaha is hosting another one-day competition for designers, web-developers, and software-engineers to work with some city and county government data to create a new smart-phone app, website, software, or data analysis tool.
Hack Omaha’s usage of city and county data sets provides a unique opportunity for local elected officials and government managers to witness how releasing public data can spur both entrepreneurial business ventures and provide the public useful tools to understand what is occurring within their community and government.
If you are interested in participating in the Hack Omaha public data competition, please go to hackomaha.com to sign-up while openings remain. Also, if you come across an issue and wonder if there is an accompanying data set that should be released for the public to use, please do not hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or the folks at Hack Omaha at email@example.com.
As state, city, and county governments continue to adapt to the ever-changing technologically-driven economy of the 21st century, they have a responsibility to ensure the public’s right to usable data is at held in the highest regards.
Simply put, it’s your data and you may know how to use it better than your government.
For more on Hack Omaha, see our post: “Data competition Hack Omaha returns with one-day format Oct. 13“.
Note: Silicon Prairie News is a media sponsor of Hack Omaha.
Credits: Photo of Heath Mello from nebraskalegislature.gov.