Thursday, June 7, 2012

US and India to officially launch Open Government Platform (OGPL) June 11

News via the U.S. General Services Agency (GSA), which houses Data.Gov: there will be an event at the U.S. State Department in Washington, DC next week to officially launch the “Open Government Platform” (OGPL) that was jointly developed by the United States and India.

The development of OGPL isn’t news — the White House announced that Data.gov would be open sourced last November — nor is the code, which Data.gov released to Github on the third anniversary of the United States flagship open data platform’s founding.

What is news is the event itself, and what’s interesting is the rationale behind the project. Here are the details from the email sent to media today:

"OGPL is a joint product from the United States and India to promote transparency and greater citizen engagement by making more government data, documents, tools and processes publicly available in useful machine-readable formats to develop new applications for citizen benefit. OGPL combines and expands the best features of the U.S. “Data.gov” and India’s “India.gov.in” sites, and will be offered to other governments free of charge using the open-source community to provide future technology enhancements, open government implementation plans and technical support.

Why: With the launch of OGPL comes the opportunity to engage the public in improving government transparency and accountability not only for the Governments of India and the United States, but any country seeking to open their data to the world.

Background: During his visit to India in November 2010, President Obama and Prime Minister Singh agreed to work together to exercise global leadership in support of open government and democratic values. The leaders launched a U.S.-India Open Government Dialogue with a view of harnessing public-private partnerships, using new technologies and innovations to promote their shared goal of democratizing access to information and energizing civic engagement, supporting global initiatives in this area, and sharing their expertise with other interested countries.

By leading the world in open data practices and providing an open source community for any country to use, the U.S. and India are effectively lowering the barrier for all governments to participate in the open data space. Furthermore, the U.S. and India are seeking to build a community of interest around OGPL to ensure its maintenance and development. By using an open source approach, the new platform will improve the future optional features of both Data.gov and India.gov.in and allow global participation in advancing the code and features for all participants in the future.

The governments of India and the United States are the two key participants in OGPL. On the U.S. side this includes several agencies: State Department, USAID, OSTP, OMB, and GSA. Outside of the two governments, the key stakeholders are open government groups, application developers, data journalists and scientists, data-driven businesses, and citizens around the world.”

Now that the code is online and the project has been officially launched, we’ll see if countries, states or cities use it.

Currently, more than two dozen open data platforms run on CKAN, from the Open Knowledge Foundation, including the United Kingdom’s platform, Data.gov.uk. When Brazil stood up its own open data platform this spring, for instance, it chose CKAN. 

At least one high level proponent of open data believes that the deployment of an open source OGPL will matter: U.S. CIO Steven VanRoekel. In our interview on 21st century government, VanRoekel told me that “Data.gov was a great cultural tool that shocked the system. It got people to pay attention to the value of open data and what it can do.”

What will making the code and data-loading mechanisms to the rest of the world mean?

Steven VanRoekel: The importance to other countries is that this has the voice of the United States behind it. It was announced by President Obama at the United Nations, during the Open Government Partnership launch. Driving that forward is very important.

The next step of this is starting to get other countries folded into the development process. There’s more work to do. I think there are more things we can do. Localization is one example. We’ve built extensibility in there for localization.

The code is built on Drupal, right? Will there be modules that can be added to this over time? How does open source relate to collaboration around open government?

Steven VanRoekel: That’s right. I think there’s a sort of “Brand America” applied to this in a way that I think will be very positive for the rest of the world.

The second part of this is, why open source: There’s no licensing restrictions. You can get it out to the rest of the world. That’s a key part of it.

There’s also a culture around open source that is brought to bear on this effort. We want to collaborate across multiple bodies, multiple entities, and get lots of people involved, focusing on continuous improvement. That’s the spirit of open source, where you’ve got different communities of people really getting together and doing great work. The bottom line on this project is doing it in a way where we can hand it off to others and they’ll build the next great feature, and keep the ball moving on it.

Will releasing more open data from government agencies matter? We’ll see.

At least one notable publication picked up on the potential: the Wall Street Journal’s “Morning Download," which apparently woke up to the relevance of government agencies releasing open data to the markets today:

"Good morning. Your company may be about to get disrupted — unless you get there first. The federal government is starting to make public data available in apps and easy-to-access web APIs. The intention is to make it easier to interact with federal agencies, but the reform will also make it easier for anyone to build an information-based business. And that could be a threat to any established company.

The potential applications for data from agencies as disparate as the Department of Transportation and Department of Labor are endless, and will affect businesses in every industry imaginable. Including yours. But if you can think of how that data could let someone disrupt your business, you can stop that from happening by getting there first.”

Notes

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