Moving Beyond Supplier: What is the Role of Government Relative to Open Data?

| Cathy Wissink

dataThe benefits of open data are frequently cited in the civic technology literature: transparency, community engagement, and economic benefit. What exactly is meant by “economic benefit”?  And how can governments help unleash said economic value? A new report out by Andrew Stott, Senior Open Data Consultant at the World Bank, goes into more detail on both the economic benefits of open data, as well as recommendations to fully realize the potential innovation and economic gain of open data.

The economic benefits are compelling. According to Stott, seven sectors alone (Education, Transportation, Consumer Products, Electricity, Oil & Gas, Health Care and Consumer Finance) could generate somewhere between $3-5 trillion annually from leveraging open data.  I’d encourage everyone to look closer at this report for more specifics on the current (and potential) economic impact of open data.

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Beyond the economic benefit specifics in the report, what I found interesting were the recommendations to governments in order to promote innovation and economic benefit with their data sets. Many agencies at all levels of governments have found ways in recent years to open up their data; governments are becoming well-versed in what it means to be a supplier of data to the public. This openness with data is the foundational step to civic technology.

Stott makes a number of additional, compelling recommendations that could spur innovation and economic benefit of open data. Of these recommendations, a few resonated with my recent experience in the open data ecosystem and conversations I’ve had with people in the open data space:

  1. Release data that businesses see value in leveraging
  2. Ensure the data can continue to be shared openly as it is updated over time
  3. Create forums and approaches that support the on-going use of data (vs. a single time engagement like a hackathon with static data)

Many of Stott’s recommendations speak to the concept of data sustainability—namely, if innovation and economic benefit are to be gained from open data, that there is a need for a consistent, on-going and normalized set of data and processes to support said innovation. Innovations that rely on open data need to be able to depend on data being accurate, current and reliable. Additionally, the recommendations call for business relevance; that is, both the data and the processes need to be relevant to potential business opportunities and innovation.

While this need for both sustainability and business relevance in open data means greater effort in terms of a government’s approach to data collection and maintenance, it shows that civic technology is maturing from a nascent concept to one that both governments and private sector see as a viable opportunity for innovation and economic impact. I look forward to seeing how the ecosystem absorbs these recommendations and continues to innovate.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree with my take on the article? Let me know in the comments section.


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Cathy Wissink

Cathy embraces what others may tend to avoid. Kale? Loves it. Bugs? Enthralled by them. A cross country bike ride? No problem for Cathy. Solving some of society’s most critical issues by working with everyone from tech leaders to politicians to community leaders? Bring it on.