Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Protecting Community Resource Data


We believe that organizations should be compensated for the creation, organization, maintenance, and updates of community information data, especially in the nonprofit space.

In this nonprofit space, there are no discretionary profits available to allocate toward community information management. Moreover, raising money specifically for data management is much more difficult than raising funds for particular causes. So, organizations that manage information should be careful to avoid undervaluing the results of their hard work by giving away data without any guidance or protection.

This does not mean that data should be kept private and self-contained. In fact, VisionLink was the first to support the idea of a data exchange between I&Rs and 2-1-1s, which became the AIRS XML data exchange standard. We have also created standards for the exchange of information about disaster shelters and about client records. As the builder of CommunityOS, we are keenly focused on the need to move data around easily. The more that community resource information is used, the more good that can result.

All of this information requires a tremendous amount of work to prepare and organize, and therefore should carry value. This value can be recognized in a variety of forms of compensation. Recognition, especially by promoting the source of important data, helps with fundraising and positions the organization in a leadership position. Compensation can also come through trades, where one entity contributes a certain category of data while another takes on the other sectors. Finally, large data collections are worth real money, and financial compensation can help to defray the costs of data management. If we don’t compensate organizations in some way for their data, then we require them to divert funds away from other areas and potentially impact their ability to help their own communities.

If we agree that community information data represents valuable time and energy, we may also agree that these critical collections of data should be protected against screen scraping and other means of unauthorized use.

Enforcing copyright over data collections is possible, but other measures are often more efficient and less costly. We recommend establishing a Terms of Service, or a Terms of Use policy for your information (especially within your search results), so that you can place contractual obligations on those who use your information. Screen scraping, for example, can be a contractual violation. It’s important that you have some claim to your data collection, rather than having these databases used and rebranded by other resellers without permission.

So, let me end where we began. The exchange and free flow of information makes for powerful systems of systems. Even better, with the right kinds of APIs and other technical toolkits at your disposal, you can let brilliant minds take advantage of these databases and build all sorts of applications, making your information broadly available. The first step, though? Establish some protections so that as the value of your hard work becomes more and more apparent, you have legal grounds to protect your databases and to direct how your information is spread far and wide.

Sincerely,
Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO of VisionLink