Open Government and Data Journalism

Governments opening up their information is vital. Journalists report data-driven stories based on data analysis and visualization of the public information. That information, in turn, leads people to make daily decisions.

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By Laura Tamia Ortiz. Published: July 20, 2021

At Datasketch, we work in areas that complement each other, although they have very different characteristics. In previous posts, we have talked about open data and its uses to improve institutional transparency and facilitate accountability, and its potential to generate new products and services. One of the areas in which open data and public information can have the most outstanding value in journalism. We will talk here about how open government helps data journalism and vice versa.

What is data journalism?

It is a type of journalism that emerged in the United States in the 1960s, based on the analysis and visualization of data. Media agencies use it to provide detailed and accurate information on topics of interest to their readers.

How does data journalism relate to open government?

In all forms.

Public entities are required by law to make public a large part of the information they generate. In addition, both national and supranational legislations invite openness, whenever possible, to use open formats. In other words, States are one of the leading providers of information and data, which media companies can use to generate their content and carry out their research. You can read more about this in our article: Open government for dummies: transparency.

Governments’ task is to raise awareness, awareness, and visibility of the potential of public information since it helps to justify decision-making processes and helps citizens understand and participate in them. That empowers both citizens themselves, who can participate and carry out social control over public decisions, and public officials, who can back up their work with objective data and be held accountable on an ongoing basis.

It is directly related to SDG 16 of the 2030 Agenda. Thanks to more valuable and complete information, greater citizen participation and informed decision-making can be achieved. It also fosters SDG 17, since creating partnerships between different actors, such as journalists and public officials, improves the understanding and involvement of the scope of all SDGs depending on the type of news and its content.

What types of data do institutions open?

Public data sources can be classified according to their scope. Thus, we find international sources (which provide data generated by international entities, such as the UN, the IMF, the European Union, or the WHO), national sources (including national data portals such as those of the USA, the UK, or Colombia, among many others) and local sources (such as the open data portals of the cities of Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro). However, one of the limitations of these portals is the difficulty of finding, navigating through, and understanding the data.

Public databases are generally not created with a potential reader in mind. They are generated to facilitate the work of officials, who know the data and the topics they deal with. That is why you find datasets full of abbreviations that do not follow any kind of standard and are organized with logic that may not have any apparent reason. Sometimes even for those of us who work with open data daily, it is difficult to understand them, so we keep repeating the need for them to be of quality (If you want to know more about what is meant by quality in open data in Open Government, visit our post: Open Government for Dummies: Open Data).

Open data is nothing more than a set of numbers, in overwhelming quantities most of the time, which are not easily digestible. Non-technical citizens face enormous difficulties in accessing and consulting this data. That is why the importance of information reusers, data journalism, and the tools created by them to understand and visualize open data. They complement what public portals offer, reach all people, and make it possible that there is social control of public entities through data.

What tools can I use to manage data?

Here are some tools that can help you to work, interpret and visualize public data, regardless of whether you are a civil servant who wants to make the information of your entity much easier to find out, a journalist who is conducting an investigation, or you are simply interested in open data.

1. Datasketch Apps

It is a platform for data visualization and analysis, where you will find all the dashboards created by the Datasketch team to visualize data and actual examples of its use. It allows you to upload your data or reuse public data and work with it. For instance, you will find a tool that will enable you to create maps of the world adapted to your needs, which you can add to your reports or news, or others that will enable you to generate bar charts, mosaics of legos, etc. In our data journalism space, you can see all the stories we have developed from data. We invite you to explore our applications, and if you have any questions, you can contact us directly through the platform itself.

Visualización de datos: mapas estáticos del mundo

2. EPdata

It is the Europa Press platform created to facilitate journalists the use of public data (es). It draws from both public and private sources and allows journalists to enrich their news with graphs, contextual analysis, and the possibility of contrasting the figures provided by various sources.

3. The chatbot of the Government of Aragon

Not everything is about visualizing data. Sometimes a much more important step is missing: locating the data. That’s why we find it interesting how some public entities, such as the Government of Aragon in Spain, are exploring the possibilities offered by artificial intelligence to help citizens find the information they need. This Chatbot (es) allows you to ask a natural language question about the information you need and returns the existing datasets on the platform related to your question.

4. Datawrapper

Is a very popular tool, which has a space for journalists and media and allows you to create graphs and maps from data that can be uploaded by hand, from already created databases, or through URIs where the data is hosted.

Whatever the case, and regardless of the platform you use to visualize your data, you must cite the source of the data. That will allow other people to contrast the information you offer and give credibility to your narratives.

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