My consulting, project management, and research focus on planning and managing data intensive projects. My contact information is here.

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Dennis McDonald's Weekly Top Ten

For a given 7-day period this list shows the most popular Managing Technology posts.

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Flickr MAGIC VIEW Automagically Organizes Your Photos

Recently I discovered Flickr’s “Magic View” software that displays your collection according to automatically assigned categories.

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Dashboarding Open Data Program Governance

By Dennis D. McDonald

Tap or click above image to download a .pdf of this article.An interesting aspect of NOAA’s Big Data Project experiment is the “outsourcing” of selected NOAA data access and commercialization efforts to private sector cloud vendors including Amazon, IBM, Google, and Microsoft. Reliance on private sector partners for providing both public access and commercialization support raises the question about how NOAA — or other Federal agencies using this approach — will track program performance.

Some NOAA data sets that are of potential interest to the public may already have specialized users both inside and outside the government. Such users (e.g., university based researchers) have already developed specialized access methods to obtain data feeds via custom connections with NOAA systems. Pushing such data out to “public” cloud resources could in theory make NOAA data resources even more available than such specialized access methods. How will NOAA know if this actually happens?

One possible reporting model is used by the Federal government’s  Project Open Data. This is governed by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). This effort, assisted by GSA, provides both technical and policy guidance to ongoing efforts to “open up” government data across multiple agencies on a dataset by dataset basis.

One of the most visible components of this effort is the Project Open Data Dashboard. This is a top-level agency-by-agency report on progress being made in opening Federal agency data. Below is a snapshot of the current dashboard that is updated quarterly:

The rows in the table represent agencies submitting data to the dashboard. The right-hand column displays the number of data sets being reported on.

Each agency has a separate Dashboard page that summarizes data gathered via daily automated “crawls” of agency datasets. Crawls run every 24 hours with end-of-the quarter “snapshots” generated to reflect a past quarter’s progress, as in the above sample. Agencies may also have their own more detailed webpages providing additional information on their open data program; for example, the USDA’s own “digital strategy” efforts are reported here.

Dashboards like the sample displayed above combine manual, automated, quantitative, and qualitative data to measure progress. The color coding in the above example provides an indication of “leading indicators” showing if milestones have been reached that quarter, are in danger of being missed, or have actually been missed. While I’m personally not a great fan of such gross project measures, I am interested in the information provided by regular polling of agencies about their open date efforts:

  • Are links working or broken? If they fail what error code is returned?
  • Is the agency-reported inventory of data sets complete? For example, does a search for .CSV, .XML, or. JSON files show higher numbers than are being reported by the agency? If so, why?
  • Are the means for the public to obtain contextual information about the data being provided?
  • Are data owners and their contact information being provided?

Granted these types of dashboard figures don’t give an indication of data set usage via the agency or via They can provide insight into accessibility including efforts to standardize access, plus they provide useful practical information about data quality.

How might the above approach be relevant to something like the NOAA big data project or to other Federal agencies that are exploring private sector partnerships for improved data access?

One implication is that the data-issuing agency might want to negotiate agreements with private sector cloud vendors that incorporate some level of reporting and feedback to the source agency so that levels of data access can be tracked. Also, if different partner vendors make related data sets available, would  it be possible to ensure that data and metadata standards are being implemented and maintained across data sets and by the participating partner vendors? If the same data set is being provided freely to the public and is also the basis for a commercial product based on further processing of the source data, would it useful for the source agency to know about such crossover?

One has to be careful about making such reporting requirements mandatory. Note the pushback that use of XBRL markup has received from some businesses involved in financial reporting.

A key feature of the Project Open Data effort being managed by OMB and OSTP is that so much of it is being conducted in the open using accessible resources such as shared documentation, a defined metadata schema, and use of GitHub for capturing comments and issues. Agencies that want to involve private sector vendors in their open date efforts should consider the use and management of such tools as a required part of program governance and oversight (as long as sufficient staff and resources are provided to manage such efforts, of course).

Related reading:

Copyright © 2015 by Dennis D. McDonald, Ph.D. Dennis is an independent project management consultant based in Alexandria, Virginia. His experience includes consulting company ownership, open data, database publishing and data transformation, managing the integration of large systems, corporate technology strategy, social media adoption, statistical research, and IT cost analysis. Clients have included the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Academy of Engineering, and the National Library of Medicine. His web site is located at and his email address is On Twitter he is @ddmcd.



Breakthrough Financial Open Data Legislation To Be Introduced May 20

Pushing for standardization of such regulatory information will greatly enhance public access and transparency — as long as effective governance and sufficient resources are made available to support the process and the systems that provide public access.

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Risk, Uncertainty, and Managing Big Data Projects

Anyone who practices project management for a living will recognize this list. It’s certainly not unique to big data analytics project. It is however reasonable to ask whether “big data” projects are unique in some way that exacerbates the probability of failure.

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Interim Report on the Generalizability of the NOAA Big Data Project’s Management Model

It’s good to see the Federal government and private sector working together to create value from data that might not be realized were its use restricted only to specifically funded and legislated programs.

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Moving to the Cloud: Business as Usual or Opportunity for Change?

Sometimes it makes sense to consider open data programs and cloud infrastructure transformation at the same time. Each can impact the other especially when a program like NOAA’s big data project includes requirements for both public access and support for third-party product development.

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Who Cares About Digital Government Services?

People also have different channel preferences depending on whether they are alone or with others, are on the road or at home, or are seeking a quick bit of information, performing an infrequent transaction, or are doing serious or complex research with significant health or financial consequences.

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Do People Really Understand What “Open Data” Means?

Ultimately the most important issue has to come down to deciding what level of data literacy citizens need. As the production and consumption of goods and services become more data-dependent in both developed and developing countries, it is reasonable to ask how much understanding of data and data related decisions people really need. I’ve referred to this elsewhere as data management literacy. Maybe we also need to consider data consumption literacy. After all, if people don’t understand or appreciate the services we’re providing, no amount of standardization, interoperability, or transparency is going to make any difference.

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NOAA’s Big Data Project Comes Into Focus

What’s different about this newly announced NOAA program is not just the potential “big data” scope of the program but the way in which private sector cloud vendors are involved as intermediaries not only to the public but also to potential data vendors and resellers.

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