The One Lesson Open Data Taught Us


Not long ago the two big themes in government were breaking down organizational silos and paradigm shifts. Today you hardly hear a word about these topics.  Are all the silos gone?  Has everyone’s paradigm shifted?

Now, the thing everyone is talking about is open data. The open data movement has exposed the fact that that the silos aren’t gone and the paradigm hasn’t completely shifted.  So, what does this mean for government?

For the GIS community, open access and sharing data is nothing new. It wasn’t referred to as open data but there was always a dialogue about the open exchange of data and then extending that data to the public, something we called societal GIS.   The problem was we were just talking about it amongst ourselves.  We weren’t having the broader dialog that today’s movement is tackling.   Early on, the drivers revolved around sharing data as a means of reducing the cost associated with building redundant datasets, improving collaboration among departments to solve problems, and ensuring that our data was ready in case of an emergency or natural disaster. In other words, the focus of the discussion was about making data readily available to the organization and helping reduce the cost of data creation and management.  There were always some who argued the case for public consumption but the majority focused cost and data management.

Recently, open data drivers have shifted to transparency, accountability, and economic development through tech startups and innovation.  The dialogue switched to an outward facing discussion. And, we seeing a clear return on investment and business value:

  • New startup communities and innovation emerged as app developers and entrepreneurs had access to new data provided by government
  • Public-private partnerships became stronger when consumer apps like Waze created a bidirectional data exchange between government and consumer organizations
  • State organizations like the Nebraska Games and Parks Commission saw a 70 percent drop in data requests from citizens by switching to the self-service open data model.
  • The Ordinance Survey of Ireland launched GeoHive, an open data site for the nation that saw a cost savings of 82 Million Euros ($92,929,800 USD) and a time savings benefit that equated to 270 million Euros ($316,358,100 USD)

When you step back and look at it, there is one lesson we learned: major users of open data included internal users and other governments looking to collaborate or use data to further their efforts.  It’s clear that the older emphasis about the importance of breaking down silos within an organization remains.  An open data strategy needs to include internal use of data and government to government data sharing.

The next generation of open data takes these organizational goals into account.  We are seeing a shift from simply opening data for open data’s sake to a more complete approach. Concepts like a data hub connects open data to the work governments are striving to accomplish, providing contextual data with around government initiatives, and exposing internal and external partnerships to show collaboration.

Take a look at the Los Angeles, CA’s GeoHub, the City of Long Beach, CA’s DataLB or Loudon County, Virginia’s GeoHub.   They have deployed the Hub practice that promotes partnerships, and are more thoughtful about how data is presented and ties back to both organizational and community goals.

We are looking forward to keeping the dialogue going. We will certainly see significant releases in software offerings and will participate in events like the International City and County Management Association (ICMA) Annual Conference to explore best practices and performance measurements around open data. One way or another, we’re off to a great start.

Christopher Thomas is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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