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The Benefits of Open Data Keep Growing

By: Chelsea Collier, Senior Advisor, Texans for Economic Progress (TEP)

Global survey reveals insights, opportunities and challenges 

There are multiple claims that “data is the new oil,” meaning in terms of economic impact, what oil was to the last century, data will be to the next. And it’s easy to see why that could be true. Companies, cities and organizations are relying on the data collected from our online and offline activity to create better products and make more informed decisions. Sensors, cameras and online “cookies” all contribute to our data-rich world.

Another kind of data – one you don’t hear about as much –  has been readily available for years: Data from the public sector.  Cities, states and nations around the world are increasingly focused on open government data (OGD) or “open data.” In fact, recently more than 1,000 citizens surveyed in 10 countries say open data helps them live their lives, creates opportunities for their cities, and fosters trust in the government.

So What Is Open Data?

If you’re still scratching your head wondering, “what is open data?” you’re not alone. Half of respondents had little awareness about what it is and how it could impact their lives, leaving ample opportunity for growth and education.

The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) has a lengthy definition of OGD that abbreviates to “data and information produced by public bodies (the government) that is available for free use, reuse and distribution.” For instance, data available in the US public domain could include everything from the City of Austin’s Waste Collection & Diversion statistics to fruit and vegetable prices published by the US Department of Agriculture.

Ready to learn more? Here are a few additional findings on open data from the survey:

·         More than 60% of citizens agree that open data is an opportunity to generate greater economic value, for example through apps and services

·         53% say open data helps with their personal decision making, especially for transportation, education and the environment, for example, Washington D.C.’s MetroHero app, and NYC’s app for obtaining food stamps 

·         Overall, 66% say open data can make citizens happier and more self-reliant 

·         70% say the key reason why governments open up their data is to create greater trust between the government and citizens

·         The countries with the most citizen awareness and use of open data include India, Taiwan, Singapore, and Mexico.

·         Singapore citizens use open data the most, with as many as 10 percent using it every day.

Texas and the Civic Good

Open data chapters all across the state have been steadily working for years to build civic and social solutions. Many are local brigades for Code for America, a non-partisan, non-political 501 organization founded in 2009 to address the widening gap between the public and private sectors in their effective use of technology and design.

  • Open Austin works closely with the City of Austin and the Austin Hack for Change as well as other community groups to share solutions around recycling, education, parks and transportation.
  • Sketch City in Houston also works closely with their local leadership and was a critical force in quickly mobilizing life-saving support during Hurricane Harvey.
  • Open Data Dallas provides a platform that enables local developers to explore the city’s data sets.
  • On a state level, data.texas.gov is the source for all information collected about and by Texas. And communities all across the state are working to collect, publish and create standards around their open data to make it easier to use, share and create powerful tools.

Open data barriers

In nearly every country, respondents listed lack of awareness as the biggest barrier to OGD programs. But there were other significant issues around ease of use. A fourth of respondents feared they lacked the technical knowledge to access and use the data. Others noted issues like difficulty getting into the sites, finding information in the sites and specifically finding information relevant to their needs. Finally, many said they wished the data was standardized across data formats.

Survey respondents also acknowledged the risks surrounding open data including cyber and data protection. Indians and Singaporeans were the most confident that their governments would keep OGD safe. Mexicans think this is an area government should address better.

Potential solutions

So how do you get more people involved in and using open data? The report suggested awareness campaigns and involving user experience experts to design OGD websites or apps. If cities make the information easy for the average person to use, perhaps that will improve the amount of data going forward and the efficacy of existing systems. It also may increase the number of people able to use the information to enhance and create business opportunities inspired by OGD.

In addition, private sector companies are creating solutions that can address some of the challenges. For example, Data.World based in Austin, Texas is a B-Corp that has created an analytics and collaboration platform for data scientists and researchers so that they can find, use and share data. Think of it as a social network for open data that improves outcomes for everyone. Could the next step be to create something like this for the average citizen? Perhaps an equivalent to “Turbo Tax for open data?”

More about the survey

The survey was conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit with Singapore’s Government Technology Agency which develops Smart Nation infrastructure and applications and deploys ICT solutions and digital services to the public sector. Other countries involved included South Korea, France, Finland, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

The bulk of respondents were professionals who were educated and had either executive or management jobs. About 60 percent were male and they were nearly evenly divided between 18-35 and 36-56 age groups. 

Understanding worldwide attitudes, awareness levels and challenges with open data is a great first step for increasing broader adoption rates. The greater the understanding of open data and its benefits by the developer and research community, in addition to the public, the greater the opportunity to develop businesses, programs and applications that can solve some of our greatest civic challenges. Look to your own local community for its open data groups and join in on creating the next big – and important – thing.

Categories Blog, TEP Focus | Tags: | Posted on November 22, 2017