Open data is probably more interesting to GovLoopers than the average citizen. That’s understandable; most data-sets aren’t helpful to everybody. For instance, checking out Data.gov, I see raw data-sets concerning the marital status of active-duty forces, the location and characteristics of the worlds copper smelters, and data regarding the surface-temperature of land at night. For me, and probably most of you, this is all largely useless information.
Some are using that to argue that open data initiatives are cool, but largely irrelevant. I beg to differ. While this information may not be useful to me now, if I was writing a report on the effects of active-duty service on families, certain data-sets, such as the one listed above, could prove very valuable. Further, open data is used to create accountability in government.
In California, for example, a city manager in one local district had an annual compensation package of over $1.5 million. After this was found out about — and a protest occurred occupying City Hall — California made it law that all city and county governments report employee salaries, which are then posted online.
In 2011, the budget for Data.gov was cut by 75 percent. To me, this is a step in the wrong direction. Open data should be looked at as an investment in keeping government efficient and accountable. I would be interested to look at California as a case study and see a cost-benefit analysis of the law regarding government employee salaries. I bet an effective open data program saves more taxpayer money than it spends, and helps industry such as reporters and academics in need of these data sets.
But enough about me. What do you think? Is open data beneficial enough to justify the expense?