OpenGov APIs: Interfacing with Open Government
So, as a prelude to a talk Iâ€™ll be giving at eComm next month, I wanted to write a post surveying the landscape of recent government API developments, and also to describe evolving efforts to construct standards for government APIs.
A Rundown of Recent State and Local API Developments
At Transparency Camp in DC last weekend, Socrata – a firm that hosts open data sets for governments – open sourced their API for accessing and querying public data. The Socrata Open Data API (or SODA) is a specification for running queries against public data sets. Currently, Socrata hosts data sets for the City of Seattle and others – code samples for working with the SODA spec can be found on Github.
The Open311 API recently implemented by the City of San Francisco (and being implemented by others) got some well deserved attention at the recent Where 2.0 conference. Other cities are starting to take note, and some (like Edmonton and Boston) look set to be next in line.
One of the early adopters of government APIs – the NY Senate – recently announced a new release for their OpenLeg API, which includes some important new changes. Today the NY Senate remains one of the few (if not the only) state legislative body to adopt an API to open up access to legislative information and proceedings, but other will hopeful soon follow. (Certainly the work done in Albany by NY Senate CIO Andrew Hoppin and his team has opened the door for work on other government APIs.)
Thatâ€™s a lot of good stuff in just the last few weeks – Iâ€™ve probably missed some stuff, but Iâ€™m sure there is more to come in the weeks and months ahead.
Towards API Standards
Standards for open data and APIs will make it easier for developers to build things – an app that works for one municipality can work for others if both adhere to a common standard that the app can run against. But theyâ€™ll also make it easier for governments to open up their data – standards will offer governments assurance that the time and effort they expend to maintain and publish data or stand up APIs will provide the most return on investment.
The move towards open data and government API standards is an important one that may influence the long-term success of the open government movement.
More and more open data will be published by governments in this country and others. These newly opened data sets may be hosted on infrastructure maintained by governments, or by third parties like Socrata. Enterprising governments in different regions or states may decide to team up and jointly host data that is of interest or value to constituents served by multiple governments or jurisdictions.
The applications that allow citizens to communicate with governments and consume public services will increasingly be built outside of government. (By outside, I mean outside the control of government and the government procurement framework.) Governments will increasingly become the collectors and maintainers of data and information and will focus less on building applications that use such data (or contracting for such applications to be built).
The applications built to consume public data and communicate with government will increasingly be designed as multitenant applications, able to service constituents in multiple jurisdictions that adhere to common data or API standards. They will also be built using more open source components and Web 2.0 technologies.
And (hopefully) the ranks of civic coders will continue to swell, as technologists looking to â€œscratch their own itchâ€ are empowered to make a difference far beyond their own wants or needs.
All hail the transformative power of standards!
I’m always inspired talking and working with entrepreneurs trying to solve big civic problems, especially those who realize much of the challenge lies within modernizing and empowering internal government operations, so it was great to finally meet with Govtech Fund Founder and Managing Partner Ron Bouganim this week.
The 18F Delivery team released a “Partnership Playbook” that aims to help federal agencies understand what to expect when working with 18F, and the gem within is play number two, “We work with an empowered product owner.”
Citizens simply glaze over when they are confronted by a sea of large numbers with many zeros. These figures need to be relatable to the person reading the data. Otherwise, open data is just more data that dies on the vine.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released a beta version of Vets.gov, and it’s the future of federal government digital development.
The Welsh Government released a report of its findings on how local government in Wales can better leverage digital technologies and realize significant savings while still providing quality, scalable citizen services.
A California bipartisan oversight committee, the Little Hoover Commission, has issued recommendations on how the state can bring a more customer-centric government to residents and visitors.
Seneca Systems CEO Chris Maddox shares the inspiration behind the new constituent relationship management system, Romulus.
“No ugly, old IT” jumped out at me when I first reviewed DataSF’s strategic plan, “Data in San Francisco: Meeting supply, spurring demand,” and it still sticks, mostly because someone inside government was so bold as to make this a priority and openly communicate it and also because this should be a mantra for everyone building civic technology.
Enabling internal government tech shops to quickly stand up applications in a secure testing environment is fundamental to quick prototyping, and 18F’s new Cloud.gov is a major step in realizing ultimate IT flexibility.
Based on “extensive user research,” the Federal Communications Commission has launched a beta version of fcc.gov that aims to make the site “more useful and accessible to FCC stakeholders.”