Prevent Another Flint; Make Data Machine Readable

To Prevent Another Flint, Make All Open Data Machine Readable

Open data can help us, the people of the United States, prevent the next Flint.  More specifically, real-time, machine-readable, regularly reported open data that is transparent from collection all the way through analysis. We cannot and should not rely on the government to always keep us safe. Numerous pundits and industry experts have said this. Most of them, however, explain that if government had functioned properly, the environmental agencies would have properly communicated to their higher-ups and the problem would have been spotted much sooner. Those with a more cynical view intone that the government in Ann Arbor was not terribly interested in the plight of the largely poor residents of long-beleaguered Flint, a casualty of the Rust Belt Collapse. I think these experts have it wrong. Open data can help us, the people of the United States, prevent the next Flint. More specifically, real-time, machine-readable, regularly reported open data that is transparent from collection all the way through analysis. We cannot and should not rely on the government to always keep us safe. This is not an indictment. Governments are fallible, just as any other large organization is fallible. But 100 years ago, there was no way to easily access, analyze and monitor government activities. Today, there is no excuse not to do so. In the case of Flint, if state and federal environmental authorities had placed in a timely fashion the raw water testing results into an open data platform like Socrata , Junar or CKAN , then any citizen could have run a quick analysis on the results and, with a modicum of education, judged for themselves whether something was amiss. Developers, too, could have accessed this data via an API and piped it into any number of data analytics platforms to spot aberrant samples, anomalies and other red flags. Equally important, such systems could detect changes in testing procedures that might indicate manipulation. In the case of Flint, a number of positive test results for lead were not reported. Had these additional samples been included in the reports, then the samples would […]