Public data apps diseminate difficult to obtain data

Panelists for ONA’s “Creating Killer Apps with Public Data” session told an audience of a couple hundred Saturday morning that easy-to-read apps can help citizens learn about and better understand their communities.

But some data are expensive and difficult to obtain.

Bill Allison, By Mandy Hofmockel

Bill Allison, executive director at the Sunlight Foundation, said the government doesn’t always keep its data in usable forms, which can take time and sometimes tens of thousands of dollars to convert into the correct form.

“Fundamentally, government should do a much better job of keeping records,” he said.

Financial and time issues may slow data visualization work, but the apps and widgets created for such projects can help people make better, more informed daily decisions.

Rufus Pollock, By Mandy Hofmockel

Rufus Pollock, co-founder of the Open Knowledge Foundation, said his organization works to help people easily explore and understand public data, which could pertain to a variety of topics, including where taxes dollars are spent.

To him, good data visualization requires government transparency and promotes citizen ownership of what is going on in the world around them.

Allison echoed Pollock’s concerns about transparency. He showed examples of the Sunlight Foundation’s work, including a project that spotlights how much certain politicians use earmarks and where Recovery Act money is being spent.

Even before plans to visualize data can begin, Pollock says the story in the data must be parsed out.

“You’ve got to decide how you want to tell that story,” he said. “So I think the biggest thing is to find, first of all, what is interesting or important in the data you are doing.”

Pollock gives advice to those new to data visualization below:

When to use — and not use — data visualization:

Easy-to-use data visualization programs: