Whoever said that projects get done “the easy way or the right way” could use an introduction to Open Data. Not only is it free to use and widely useful, it runs off programs and skill-sets that many nonprofits already use every day…
Like Microsoft Office. If you’re a Datanerd, you probably love Excel. Even if you don’t, you or someone you know is likely using it to get some of your organization’s work done. Any good Open Data site makes friends with Excel by offering open content as .csv files, which list lots of data separated by commas and let almost any machine – like your laptop – read where one bit of data stops and the next starts.
This means basic personal computers can turn .csv files into lists and charts that people can read and search. But wait – it gets better! Since .csv files are universal, they open in Excel, Numbers, OpenOffice, you name it. Just remember: when you click File → Open in a program like Excel, the menu includes a box to pick what file types to look for. If you choose ‘All Files,’ those handy .csv files show up, too.
If you don’t have software or would rather leave your Open Data stored online (aka “in the cloud”), Google’s Public Data Explorer is the solution for you. It’s awesome for (at least) two reasons.
1) It has data from over 100 data providers around the world.
2) It’s easy: you can almost always simply ‘point & click’ to see the data. Data you find can quickly become tables that complete or complement your grant applications. They can also turn into visualizations that help your annual report show impact. (Not ready to dabble in graphics? The Cheat: Just ask the Data Explorer to show you what you want, take a screen shot and print it to get a beautiful photo.
With basic laptops, simple (sometimes even free) software, and internet access, you have the tools to make Open Data work magic. And if maps and charts aren’t your thing, wait for my next post to see Open Data Myth #4 busted: there’s much more to data visualization than mere maps.