It’s no secret that the center of Go Code Colorado is data; but what you might not know is who’s behind making the data available and accessible to meet the needs of our challenge participants as they develop their apps: Xentity Corporation, and more specifically, Margaret Spyker.
Xentity is the contractor engaged by the Secretary of State’s office to publish data and provide tech support for the Go Code challenge. The Xentity team that works on the Go Code project are James Brown, Mike Giddens, and Margaret Spyker. Spyker leads up the effort and pours her heart and soul into making data accessible and useful to the public.
Go Code Colorado is continually adding to state’s open data inventory, having helped 9 state agencies publish data. And, according to Spyker, there’s an evolution to the data publishing work.
“In the first year, we had only a certain amount of time to meet with the agencies. We were feeling things out and just publishing as much as we could. Our inventory really took shape by year two ; we had published somewhere around 160 datasets. That was a great start toward the goal of building critical mass. So next we shifted focus, working toward getting greater value from focusing on quality over quantity,” Spyker says. “In a world without resource constraints, we’d make it a goal to publish all the public data right away. But we know that’s not the case, so we’ve gotten more intentional about focusing on the data we think will be most valuable.”
For year three (2016), the team focused more on quality and business-value and published an additional 32 data sets. The team met their goal for quantity, but it was a balancing act between identifying datasets with high business value and working with the agencies willing to participate in the publishing process. Even so, the learning was invaluable and the inventory continued to grow, along with our connections to agencies across the state. Many times, those attempts to engage agencies are multi-year efforts before we achieve success in publishing data. And as always, we’ve continued to improve our approach for how we target what data to publish.
“For this year, we selected 45 datasets and built a more robust data ranking tool,” Margaret says. “We wanted to get more perspectives on what data is valuable and what should be the priority, because we have limited resources. We’re excited about the continued improvement in how we go about the process. We know about more data and we’re doing a more sophisticated job of evaluating which data to publish first. But again, it’s all a balance because we also only publish data from willing participants. This is the constant challenge in an open data program. But like they say, “If it were easy, someone would have done it already.’”
Something else that’s helped the evolution of our datasets once they’ve been published is what Spyker calls the “data feedback loop”—as Go Code participants and other members of the public use the data, they provide feedback on data quality and other items that can make the data more useful. And that back-and-forth with app developers has also helped improve relationships with data providers. As data providers see people engage with the data and build innovative solutions using it, they tend to get more interested and see the value in publishing and working to improve it.
Spyker explains: “We’re in this unique scenario as tech people who can understand the perspective of both data providers and data users. The two groups sometimes seem like they’re speaking a different language. We understand enough about each group’s perspective to help identify those ‘lost in translation’ moments and help bridge the gap. So I’m a data liaison, of sorts—helping get everyone on the same page, or speaking the same language.”
In other words, what in the world would we do without Margaret? We certainly wouldn’t have as strong of an open data program, that’s for sure. A quality open data program is dynamic—and requires that constant feedback loop and the building of connections.
“To me, what’s great about Go Code Colorado is that we’re building something to make Colorado better. We’ve started capturing data in a quantifiable way, and figured out a knowledge base and central housing for it,” Margaret says. “In the broader open data movement across the country, there’s only a scattering of people who understand the reality of what it takes to build a successful program, but we’ve been in the trenches for four years now and we can see the progress we’re making, both in quantity and quality of the data being published and used, as well as the conversation that has been started between the data providers and the data users.”
So what data goodies will be available for this year’s challenge? We’ll let you know as soon as we can, and in the meantime, you can keep up with the latest info via the Colorado Information Marketplace Status Blog and Go Code Colorado challenge-relevant data page.