How to Talk About Open Data Without the Words “Open” or “Data”

Today, the Knight Foundation announced the latest round of Knight News Challenge winners, awarding $3.2 million to support projects which seek to answer the question: How might we make data work for individuals and communities?

This is an increasingly important challenge, since the private sector’s data literacy and data usage is on fire. At the same time, most individuals and communities aren’t interested in data for the sake of data, or open for the sake of open. As Abhi Nemani describes in “Let’s Move Beyond Open Data Portals”, the conversation is moving from data and transparency to accountability to governance.

Here are all 17 News Challenge-winning project descriptions, edited to eliminate the word data. Brackets [] mean deleted words; insertions are shown in italics. Look, sometimes we need to say “open” or “data”. But it’s a useful thought exercise, and I think these alterna-descriptions reinforce just how important these endeavors are to the broader community. I haven’t contacted any of these winners regarding these presumptive edits and would love to hear feedback or continue the conversation at @mishmosh.

Here we go!

The winning projects include:

All the Places Personal [Data] Records Go[es] by Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University ($440,000 | Project lead: Latanya Sweeney | Cambridge, Mass.): Making it easier to find out how your personal [data] records [is] are being shared between companies by creating a crowdsourced resource that documents and visualizes these [data] records sharing arrangements.

Citizens Police [Data] Misconduct Project by The Experimental Station in partnership with The Invisible Institute ($400,000 | Project leads: Harry Backlund, Alison Flowers, Darryl Holliday, Chaclyn Hunt, Jamie Kalven, Rajiv Sinclair, WuDi Wu | Chicago): Building an online toolkit for reporting, tracking and analyzing allegations of police misconduct and their investigations in Chicago that will serve as a national model for transparency.

[Data] Technology Equity for Main Street by California State Library, Nevada State Library, Archives and Public Records, and State of Washington Technology Solutions ($470,000 | Project leads: Anne Neville, Daphne DeLeon and Will Saunders | California, Nevada and Washington): Promoting [data] technology literacy by training librarians and community members how to find, use and give advice on the power of [open data] digital, publicly accessible records. NB: This rewrite is a stretch.

Documents Empowerment Project by mRelief ($250,000 | Project lead: Rose Afriyie and Genevieve Nielsen | Chicago): Helping low-income Americans prove their eligibility for public benefit programs by scaling a benefit program document database and discovery platform. No edits needed!

Law, Order and Algorithms: Making Sense of 100 Million Highway Patrol Stops by Stanford University ($310,000 | Project Leads: Sam Corbett-Davies, Sharad Goel, Vignesh Ramachandran, Ravi Shroff, Camelia Simoiu | Stanford, Calif.): Increasing transparency and accountability in law enforcement by compiling, analyzing and releasing a [data] records set of more than 100 million highway patrol stops throughout the country.

PublicBits: Breaking Down [Open Data] Public Records Silos by U.S. Open Data ($420,000 | Project lead: Karissa McKelvey | Oakland, Calif.): Developing a search engine that makes it easier for users to find and collect [data] digital public records from multiple sources and receive notifications when the [data] information is out of date.

Security Force Monitor by The Human Rights Institute at Columbia University
($237,589 | Project lead: Tony Wilson | New York): Informing and advancing journalism, human rights and other public interest work by compiling and structuring public [data] records on police, military and other security forces.

Weighing the Wisdom of the Crowd by Orb Media ($450,000 | Project leads: Heather Krause and Neal Rothleder | Washington, D.C.): Enabling anyone to survey the crowd and share reliable, credible results through the use of easy-to-use online tools that allow users to create more scientifically sound surveys. No edits needed!

The nine Knight Prototype Fund winners receiving $35,000 each include:

Charlotte ZipBus by Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) (Project lead: Robert Cerrato; @CATSRideTransit | Charlotte, N.C.): [Using real-time data via a mobile platform to transform an existing call-based transit service into an enhanced service that allows customers to schedule transit to meet their personal needs.] Charlotte residents will be able to use their mobile phones to schedule public transit to meet their personal needs.

Civic Infrastructure for Workers by (Project leads: Michelle Miller and Jess Kutch; @teamcoworker, @jesskutch, @michelleimiller | Washington, D.C.): [Enabling] Empower workers to improve their own jobs by creating tools that allow them to connect, as well as provide, share and acquire [data] detailed information about work issues and conditions.

Could [Your Data Discriminate] We Prevent Past Discrimination from Influencing Future Discrimination? by Data & Society Research Institute (Project leads: Sorelle Friedler; Wilneida Negron; @kdphd, @WilneidaNegron | New York): [Helping people identify and fix hidden biases in their data and learn about data discrimination through a website that will allow people to test data for bias and experiment with public data to determine what may result in such bias.] Prejudices in our historical actions are recorded, which means our records may hide biases unless we learn to identify them. How do we make sure we don’t make decisions based on biased records? This website will allow people to test historical records for bias, and determine what may result in such bias.

Democratizing Data through Visual Search Results by city of Raleigh (Project lead: Adam Martin; @RaleighGov | Raleigh, N.C.): [Making it easier to access and use public data through an open source project that will present data in a more visual and relevant manner through search results.] Make it easier to understand and use public records by presenting them in a more visual and relevant manner. For example, a search for “budget” on would yield intuitive, attractive graphs and charts.

FOIA Mapper (Project lead: Max Galka; @galka_max | New York): Making it easier for people to find public [data] information and make Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by creating an open source “FOIA map,” including a catalog of government information systems, descriptions of the records they contain, and documentation of the language needed to request them.

Excellence In, Excellence Out — Data Quality Uplift for Government (Project lead: Stephanie Singer; @sfsinger | Portland, Ore.): Helping to improve the quality of government [data] records by creating tools for quality assessment, a scorecard to motivate leaders to invest in [data quality] accurate, up-to-date information, and a quality improvement protocol for governments.

Legislation Tracker: Beyond the Bills by NJ Spotlight (Project leads: Colleen O’Dea and Lee Keough; @njspotlight, @colleenodea, @leekeough | Trenton, N.J.): Bringing more accountability and transparency to state lawmaking by creating a tracking tool for all major bills passed in New Jersey that would provide information on whether the law was enforced and milestones were met. No edits needed!

SeaGlass: Bringing Transparency to Cellphone Surveillance by University of Washington (Project leads: Peter Ney, Ian Smith, Tadayoshi Kohno; @peter_ney1, @sesotek, @yoshi_kohno | Seattle): Helping communities maintain their privacy by building a community-driven, open [data] communication service to detect cellphone surveillance and produce high-quality cellular network [data] records for research.

Quantified Self [Data] Experience: Understanding Your [Data] Personal Information and the World it Creates by University of Colorado, Boulder (Project lead: Michael Skirpan; @mwskirpan, @CUBoulder, @FastForwardLabs | Boulder, Colo.): Informing people about digital privacy, [data] information sharing and the future of our [data-driven] digital society using performance, interactive art, digital education, [data] toolkits and public discussions.

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