Open Data 101

What is Open Data?

Open data refers to efforts by federal state and local governments to release data they maintain to outside users in “open” formats. Open formats refer to file formats that are machine readable – data is formatted so that software programs or tools can easily ingest it and allow a user to start working with it. CSV, XML, JSON and other file formats are generally considered to be open. The primary users of open data are app developers, researchers, academics, etc.

In contrast, public data is data that is made available for viewing by the public on a government website – typically on a record by record basis. This data is typically meant for more casual viewing by interested parties, for example – a citizen that wants to look up information on their own property, or a neighbor’s. The primary user of public data are citizens.

Public data is meant to be consumed by eyeballs; open data is meant to be consumed by software and other technology applications.

A term often confused with open data is big data. Big data refers to the practice of extracting tactically or strategically important information from data sets that are very large in size. Working with big data usually involves specialized technology needed to query and visualize the data – which may be open data but can also be (and often is) data that is not openly available to the public.

Why Release Open Data?

Releasing data that has been collected and/or maintained through the operation of government enhances transparency, and can help citizens become better informed about the operation of their government and more engaged with their elected representatives.

In addition, by releasing open data governments may help to stimulate new and innovative ideas from the technology community. There is great potential for open data to act as the fuel for new solutions and even new businesses that can address common problems or challenges facing governments and those they serve.

When data is released in open formats through sites like, these benefits are more quickly and more fully realized.

Got questions? Contact Accela for more information.

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