Tools For Practice Tuesday: #OpenData and Why It Matters

Last week I had the privilege to speak with Dr. Joshua Rosenthal about his company RowdMap and how they use open data to assist health care organizations define value and risk. He concluded our conversation by advising me to play around with open data sets.

What is open data exactly? According to, “A piece of data is open if anyone is free to use, reuse, and redistribute it – subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and/or share-alike.”  These data sets are free and you just need reference the source in your work. For an even deeper dive I came across this article on twitter today as well…

A great place to dive in is federal and state data. Per Joshua’s advice I started to play around with I also did some research and found my own state Data repository.  How these data sets are presented are often complex to navigate. They will most likely require a multi-disciplinary approach to examining, interpreting, and using the data.

In typical social work fashion, it was not what the data says that I found important but the journey to get there. It was interesting to see what federal, state, and other organizations considered important data to open up. If these are the data sets that are important to these funding sources, organizations should pay attention. Mental health and other non-profits should take notice of these metrics. This could give an organization of what things to measure, integrate into programming, use for grant proposals, and perhaps compare your already collected data to existing open data.

Despite my best efforts to explore these spaces, there was a lot I did not quite understand. I spent a couple hours playing around. The New York State data center was interesting because it could present things visually.  Here is a visualization of Potentially Preventable Inpatient Re-admissions by county.

NYS open Data

It was interesting to not only see the data but also understand what their definition of a Potentially Preventable Inpatient Re-admissions was. The process of looking through the data finding what is important to your organization might is a good excercise.

My one caution is that exploring this data is probably done best as a team sport. You might need someone from your IT department to help with the code, effectively display, and interpret the data. Collaboration with local universities and researchers to explore open data would be powerful. Within social work, field supervisors may want to talk with their host universities and vice versa. Of course if you are tech savvy and have a strong research background, you may never leave these data sets.

The below graphic from GapingVoid has been making the rounds on social media and is concludes how I feel social work and those in the trenches should be involved in using open data..


Those of us “doing the work” have the power to turn all this open data information into knowledge. With right team exploring this data has great potential to impact mental health and non-profits. So check out…



Or you can search your state and Open Data and see what’s out there. If you have a good open data story to share please comment below or send me an email at I am fascinated by this topic and would love to learn more..



Please share your thoughts...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s