USC Open Data LA initiative promotes public access to government data throughout Los Angeles County

By Elizabeth Krane | July 23, 2014 0

Launched by USC Annenberg's Center on Communication Leadership & Policy (CCLP) in partnership with the USC Price School of Public Policy, the USC Open Data LA initiative aims to promote transparency and civic engagement in Los Angeles, beginning with a survey to assess the state of publicly available city data in each of L.A. County's 88 cities.

"Open data is a new aspect of journalism in the public interest," said Dana Chinn, CCLP faculty fellow and USC Annenberg project lead. "It's a worldwide movement, but we're going to focus on how open data initiatives can address the unique needs of the greater Los Angeles community."

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Open data is publicly available, easily accessible data that anyone is "free to use, reuse, and redistribute," according to the Open Knowledge Foundation. The open data movement gained momentum in the U.S. after President Obama issued the Open Government Initiative on his first day in office in 2009, encouraging a philosophy of "transparency, public participation, and collaboration."

By increasing collaborations between governments and entrepreneurs, open data may also create significant economic opportunities. A recent report by the McKinsey Global Institute found that "open data can help unlock $3 trillion to $5 trillion in economic value annually across seven sectors."

The White House's Project Open Data offers a recent example: "When the U.S. Government released weather and GPS data to the public, it fueled an industry that today is valued at tens of billions of dollars per year. Now, weather and mapping tools are ubiquitous and help everyday Americans navigate their lives."

In May 2014, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti launched a new open data portal for the City of Los Angeles, following his executive directive requiring all City departments to make their data openly available on one central website. But many other cities in L.A. County have lagged behind.

"There are wide disparities in datasets available from cities throughout Los Angeles County," said Geoffrey Baum, CCLP managing director. "This initiative will encourage more public access, highlight best practices and provide a resource for journalists and other individuals to access the data they need online."

Open Data LA's survey will identify the obstacles that hinder open data initiatives in these cities. Based on the survey results, follow-up interviews, and research that builds on the U.S. City Open Data Census, Open Data LA plans to publish a report analyzing the current state of open data throughout L.A. County.

"This survey will provide very useful information that will shape our own efforts to help cities in L.A. County make meaningful progress in terms of opening up their data and thereby enhancing the efficiency, effectiveness, and transparency of their operations," said Dr. Peter Robertson, associate professor and director of the Master of Public Administration at the USC Price School of Public Policy.

Depending on funding support in the future, Open Data LA hopes to organize a conference for public officials and journalists, launch an open data lab and develop a data journalism class.

The Open Data LA faculty leaders are Dana Chinn, lecturer and faculty fellow at USC Annenberg CCLP, and Dr. Peter J. Robertson, associate professor and director of the Master of Public Administration at USC Price School of Public Policy. The research team includes Ev Boyle and Liz Krane at USC Annenberg CCLP; Brett Shears, USC Price graduate student; and Andrew Schrock, Ph.D candidate at USC Annenberg.

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