GOVERNING Data: Stories Hiding in Plain Sight

GOVERNING is expanding our use of data and our efforts to put job-critical information in the hands of government leaders and practitioners
by | August 31, 2011

The modern government transparency movement stands on the shoulders of earlier efforts starting in the 1960s to ensure open records and meetings, coinciding with innovations in computer-assisted journalism. Databases became the authoritative record of what government did, when and how, making those data a beat for journalists who had begun using computers to analyze huge volumes of government records.

As early as 1969, computer-assisted journalism began revealing patterns in the criminal justice system and elsewhere that had been previously been hidden from view. Soon, journalists were using data to expose discrepancies in official reports of crime rates in large cities, school bus drivers with bad driving histories and criminal records in the suburbs; and mortgage lending discrimination in middle-income black neighborhoods.

Vast amounts of data have flowed in the intervening years. The tools for capturing, organizing and taking meaning from data sets have matured at Internet speeds, as have the technologies for visualizing and illustrating that data.

Data changes everything. Data analysis can alter the way government functions and is held to account. Data is also changing journalism and, for GOVERNING, how the stories of state and local government are told.

This month, we are expanding our use of data and our efforts to put job-critical information in the hands of government leaders and practitioners. Our new microsite, GOVERNING Data, is dedicated to visualizing government data that is vital for decision makers, constituents and everybody in between.

GOVERNING Data will be led by our new data editor, Mike Maciag, who joins us from the Erie Times-News in Pennsylvania, where he developed and ran the paper's public data portal (http://goerie.com/data). He crunched numbers to document the state of the county -- including in-depth data coverage of bridge safety inspections in the region, escalating costs for reimbursing public employees for mileage while on official business and the shrinking size of families in and around Erie.

In addition to being the chief curator of data, he will provide a digest of the data releases most relevant to state and local government. He will also use this space to profile Editor's Picks with running commentary on projects and people who do the hard work of making a complex world more understandable by using numbers well.

As the name changes on what has been known as GOVERNING Sunlight, a word of thanks is due to the people of the Sunlight Foundation. In May 2010, we entered into an informal but productive content sharing arrangement with Sunlight to share some of its government transparency coverage with our readers. It has ambitious plans and programs for making government more transparent, some of which we hope to to continue featuring on GOVERNING.

Of course, one way to learn from data is to discuss and debate its implications for policy. We encourage you to comment on data sets, pose questions and arguments and e-mail your thoughts and ideas to Mike and follow @governingdata on Twitter. We hope that GOVERNING Data will be an active community where we all can dive into the numbers and see how they can aid in good governance.

Let's get to number-crunching.

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