A while ago I wrote a bit of a rant about Schooloscope, and how its over-simplification of school data made us feel perhaps smarter than we really are. Mike Gurstein, who isÃ‚Â Executive Director of the Centre for Community Informatics Research, Development and Training (Vancouver BC and Cape Town, South Africa), has written another angle on a parallel issue. He argues that open data is, of course, a good thing, but that without proper training in its use it just empowers those with the social capital – Internet access, education, time – who can then, in the time-honoured fashion, suck resources away from the less-empowered.
An interesting example of how open data, with appropriate attention being given to some of these pre-conditions, in fact can provide a basis for effective use can be seen in how the UCLA Centre for Health Policy ResearchÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s California Health Interview Survey (CHIS) has been put to use by Community Advocates in Solano County.
The CHPR conducts a bi-annual California Health Interview SurveyÃ‚Â in conjunction with the California Department of Health Ã¢â‚¬Å“to provide a snapshot of the health and healthcare of CaliforniansÃ¢â‚¬Â.
The survey is used by a range of political authorities but most interestingly they provide free and widely accessible training on how to use the information Ã¢â‚¬Å“to develop appropriate and targeted policy responsesÃ¢â‚¬Â and overall Ã¢â‚¬Å“to learn how to use and apply the data to improve health and health careÃ¢â‚¬Â.
That is, the information is not only made accessible but attention is paid and resources are provided to ensure that the data is usable by those who might make effective use of it.
In this instance, the Solana County Community Advocates were trained so as to be able to take the data provided by the CHIS, and plot incidences of asthma by local electoral district. They were then able to create a map showing an extremely high frequency of asthma among residents in a particular local area. The Community Advocates successfully argued against developing another truck stop along I-80 in the county based on CHIS 2001 data estimates that showed Solano County to have the stateÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s highest rate of asthma symptomÃ‚Â prevalence overall and one of the highest rates for children.
It’s a really interesting article (his Bangalore example is also great, but I don’t want to leach away his content). Go and read.