Last week I participated in a data and gov tech roundtable hosted by Nick Sinai at the Shorenstein Center at Harvard Kennedy School. Nick brought together an all-star panel with Lynn Overmann, Todd Park, Aneesh Chopra, and newly-named U.S. Chief Data Scientist D.J. Patil. Entrepreneurs, academics, and officials exchanged ideas on the challenges of collecting, structuring, and delivering meaningful open data.
Patil led off with his (Day 5!) understanding of his new role, which — I was heartened to hear — included a mention of the importance of user experience. Back in the late 1990s, websites were created on the premise of “Build it and they will come.” Early release of data sets suffers from a similar problem — it’s hard to attract a wide range of users with only machine readable formats. Government officials invested in sharing data are realizing that a better approach to user experience is needed to get the data in the hands of more users. Ideally, an infrastructure will be created to meet this need, and it’s not yet clear how much public-private partnerships will (or should) play that role.
As more government data is released (new datasets were announced today from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Labor and the Environmental Protection Agency), there is greater potential value for researchers and journalists. While improved data literacy is coming, the challenge of user experience remains critical to solve to reach wider audiences.