Small Program, Big Data: Harnessing the Power of Open Data to Support Your Program
Posted by Jamison Crawford on December 13, 2017 in categoryFacts & ResearchcategoryMember Tips

The Open Movement & Open Data

The Open Movement is the global push to harness the power of transparency, knowledge sharing, and the democratization of information to tackle wickedly complex issues through collaborative, data-driven action. This movement is meant to find “solutions of many of the world’s most pressing problems in a spirit of transparency, collaboration, re-use and free access.” Transparency in the Open Movement both creates and derives from Open Source software, Open Government, and Open Data, among other sources. The meaning of “open” as it relates to data and other content is so important that it even warrants its own website,

In May of 2013, the term Open Data was codified by executive order under the Obama administration to make data publically and conveniently accessible, searchable, downloadable, modifiable, and, preferably machine-readable. Open data include documentation describing the data itself, variable definitions, and relevant methodologies. They are reusable, comprehensive, complete, and made available as soon as possible.

Leveraging Open Data for Your Program

A small team of scientists has created Open Data Inception, a comprehensive list of over 2,600 Open Data portals and clearinghouses. Chances are, wherever your program is located, there are data through these portals that you can access for needs assessment, baseline community indicators, and grant writing.

The adult literacy field isn’t exactly awash with data, especially considering how difficult it is to accurately measure adult literacy across large geographic areas. However, given the strong correlation between literacy and a number of social issues, such as educational attainment, English proficiency, poverty, and adverse health conditions, you can make a strong case for supporting your adult literacy program by using these data as proxies.

Open Data Visualization: Data USA

Like many nonprofit and other social sector organizations, chances are that even though you likely collect data for grant compliance or performance management, you may struggle to analyze or visualize that data. As Open Data grows, the means of effectively sharing data grows, as well. Some community indicator pages, such as DataCuse, ChattaData, and Delaware Focus provide great examples of visuals and dashboards that effectively communicate data focused on community issues.

However, few hold a candle to Data USA, a national data visualization engine that provides elegant, interactive data visualizations for both big cities and small towns. Its indicators range from basic demographics to health, education, crime, economy, and many other areas. Most importantly, however, each visualization can be embedded on your program’s website, where it can provide an immersive and powerful argument for supporting your adult literacy program.

As an example of sharing Data USA’s visualizations in an accessible and easy to understand way, take a look at the below choropleth map on high school graduation rates by county in Texas, and remember Open Data the next time you need to justify the fight against illiteracy in your community!


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