The ROI of open government data? New jobs

The Government Open Source Conference (GOSCON) is taking place in Portland, Oregon, and I am watching as much as I can via the live feed. During the opening session one of the things that struck me was a comment that is becoming more commonplace. A comment by one of the CIOs that they were surprised that people were not demanding more open data, that the push had not yet come.

In many ways it reminds me of the ongoing debate about whether or not Government 2.0 is in a slump, or, worse yet, is just a passing fad. As I wrote yesterday many people continue to get confused about government 2.0. I won’t repeat the post, you can read it if you want and then come back. Carolyn Lawson, Deputy Director, Technology Services Governance Division, State of California, said it well when she noted that Government 2.0 is not a movement with a set of political agendas. Government 2.0 is Democracy in Action or, more broadly, as I like to say, it is simply Government in Action. Government 2.0 is a goal-oriented strategic approach to government. It achieves goals through increased efficiency, better management, information transparency, and citizen engagement and most often leverages newer technologies to achieve the desired outcomes.

Many of the open data efforts have been technology driven, not business driven, and have therefore seen minimal, or at least unmeasured, return for the investment. California recently held an Apps for California contest which engaged citizens to create applications from the open data the government had made available. Through this process 5 winners were named and 5 new startups were created. Without open data these 5 new businesses would not have been born. While I cannot guess at the lifetime value of these businesses a value has been created by releasing data from its silos. Jobs created, additional taxes to be collected, perhaps new marketplaces born as a result of opening up data sets.

Why aren’t more people excited about this? Well, first off, government does a poor job of marketing. Second off, these types of wins are not occurring often enough. The problem, building off of Tim O’Reilly’s idea of government as a platform, is that we are early in the process and not yet creating platform services in a market-driven manner. Government entities need to recognize that they are delivering these services and act more like a product development organization then a traditional government entity. What does this look like?

  • A product manager role needs to be created that develops and works with businesses, and potential businesses, to understand needs and prioritize open data efforts around market needs and market value.
  • This product manager needs to have goals that are not about the number of data sets released but about the number of jobs created in both the private and pubic sector, the tax revenues from these ventures, etc… They need to build an ecosystem that uses private/public partnerships to drive real economic growth while maintaining and extending existing services.

I am amazed by the great work already being accomplished across the globe in this area and we must all recognize that we are in the early stages of change. However, we are reaching a point where ROI must be demonstrated to drive more excitement by a wider audience. Lets go get it done.


Originally posted on Government in Action.

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