Put This in Your Cart

Put This in Your Cart

It’s like an Amazon of public records. Put in your search terms and time frame. Narrow down by government agency, if you’d like. The result? A staggering list of documents and data, from emails among public officials to detailed, internal government documents.

Click “add to basket.” Provide an email address. No need to disclose your name, title or why you want the material. Three days later, the documents and data arrive to your inbox.

A few of the public records available to order after searching for the phrase “climate change.”

Sadly, I am not writing this to say I have discovered some magical new website in the United States that would enable digital storytellers everywhere to get the information they crave, and sometimes need. But I have found an example of what is possible—in Norway.

Norway’s gateway to public records isn’t a story in itself. It really isn’t all that creative; it exists, I imagine, because it just made sense to someone who was serious about making public records public. But it does provide access to many stories just waiting to be told. Data to be analyzed, visualized and reported. People to be interviewed.

A search for the phrase “climate change,” for instance, nets 7,874 results.

It is disheartening to realize this is likely one of a kind in a world where storytellers of all stripes could use this type of portal to inform people. Move people to act. Create change. Document. Tell stories in new ways with important information.

In the United States, the federal government and municipalities have tried to create open data websites.

The U.S. government’s open data portal enables the public to search for datasets.

The’ve held hackathons, and the federal government created a website enabling you to search for datasets. A huge step forward, relatively speaking. But you can’t search all of the U.S. government’s public records by keywords. You’re certainly not going to find emails among public officials. (Please let my phone ring now, someone calling to tell me I am wrong.) You have to know what you’re looking for — and creators often don’t until they see it.

I am eager for the day when the people’s records are open like this around the world. I am eager to see and hear the digital storytelling that results from this type of transparency and access. I am not holding my breath.