Value proposition of open data : a framework for measuring success

Performance measurement is all about storytelling, but as with most things, it helps to have a logical framework to build that story arch.
Best practice tells us we should measure success in terms of
effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction > both internally to
government and externally to public. Since there may not be proven
examples out there yet because it’s a new idea, scenarios provide an
opportunity to communicate the value proposition and make sure that we
do in fact collect the data required to demonstrate success with facts
and figures at the end.

Government services to the public must be effective and efficient, and satisfy the needs of the public.

Measuring effectiveness

The government’s goal is to achieve set desired (long-term) outcomes in order to contribute to a better quality of life for Canadians. Each
department has a mandate to meet certain needs of the
public, among them, socio-economic development, public health and
environmental protection.

Providing structured data proactively allows:

  • Citizens to create visualizations that communicate the information in various ways and related to various things in order to identify gaps
    and trends on which to make informed decisions about their quality of
  • These visualizations or the original data can help potential entrepreneurs and businesses identify gaps and couple it with other sets
    for insights (market intelligence) that improve ability to earn a
    living and provide a necessary service, as well as understand where and
    how to promote that service.
  • Groundswell: individuals and organizations to self-organize (crowdsource) to solve a problem or improve a situation.

For this we would look at measuring our effectiveness through case studies where individuals who were able to make informed decisions
about where they wanted to live, for example, or businesses made money
using the data. This story is best told through first person narrative
in my opinion. In the meantime, maybe a fictional story
(scenario) would help.

Here’s an example: Let’s say the government has a data set of contaminated sites with attributes such as location and details about
what makes them contaminated.

  • An individual: might mash it up with a map, and color code it by risk level, making it easier to prioritize what should be cleaned up
  • Academia/researchers/non-profits: might realize an opportunity to invest in a certain technology to address a certain type of
    contamination that is prevalent or has potential business application.
  • Business/entrepreneur: might propose a solution on how to tackle clean up, and propose doing so through grants from the government.
  • Community association/other level of government: might partner with federal government to clean up areas in their neighborhood for a
    nominal fee or in exchange for another service, such as a permit to
    build a park or designate the area protected in an attempt to avoid
    future contamination.

Measuring efficiency

Government money is on loan from the taxpayers and therefore, we must demonstrate reasonable spending to deliver services to citizens.

Providing structured data proactively allows:

  • Ministries to spend less to deliver the same/improved service (current savings)
  • the starting point to respond more quickly/easily/cheaply to changes in technology and citizen expectations (future savings)

For this we would look at describing/measuring our efficiency in terms of a ratio of cost for value. This is also useful for creating an
equation of how much of the current spend we should re-invest in

Here’s an example: Imagine everyone in an organization spends 10 minutes every day looking for something they need to do their job.
Assume an average salary of $40,000 (multiplied by) 100 employees = we
are spending $370 a day? Assuming 225 working days in a year, that’s
$83,250/year for a small organization where everyone’s only spending 10
minutes a day looking for information. My guess is that the real
numbers, in government organizations alone is more like an hour a day,
across hundreds of thousands of employees. What if we were able to
reduce that by 20% (eg. 2 minutes)? How much could be saved?

Now imagine that everyone who needs a government service spends on average 10 minutes looking for information about it and is able to do so
more easily? What’s the cost savings now?

Providing structured data proactively allows:

  • Individuals to choose to pull information into other systems (mobile device, feedreader, a widget) where it’s most convenient for them to
    access and return to later.
  • Governments to partner with other departments, levels of government, non-profits or businesses to provide services that offer higher value
    to citizens.

There’s also an equation to be considered around the cost to be reactive vs. proactive. What if we just committed 10% of annual budget
currently spent on providing documents under the “Access to Information”
Act? Is that a cost that’s worth shifting into innovation in order to
be proactive and prepared for the future? What could we achieve with
that? How long would it take us to see a return on investment (ROI)?

Measuring satisfaction

As a public service, we must provide a level of satisfaction to all involved, since we exist to meet a public need.

Providing structured data proactively allows:

  • Employees to have interesting work packages that is meaningful and uses upper brain functions, relegating rote tasks to automation. (Public Service Renewal argument)
  • Citizens to engage in a more meaningful way with government to help make decisions/create policy and services together about quality of
    life issues such as trade-offs between environmental degradation and
    economic prosperity.

For this we would look at measuring employee satisfaction and the trust/confidence that citizens have with

Citizen engagement has already been described as: providing information as a service; getting feedback on services (how we’re
doing) & policies (what we’re doing); consulting with stakeholders;
and facilitating dialogue amongst citizens and various interest groups
(the government as a platform model) to solve complex problems that
affect our quality of life. Open data is one way of informing or
providing these types of engagement.

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Julia Ridgely

Thanks, Laura, for that excellent overview. Cost reduction is certainly a compelling short-term justification, but I think one has to be careful with overpromising, or selling cost reduction as the main or leading reason to promote open data. By opening new channels of communication, it can require more support and “hand-holding” in the short term. But I think it’s a great way to increase trust and foster a greater sense of engagement with government. That, of course, is more of a challenge to measure!

Laura Wesley

Too true Julia. Our job is to spend money, not to hoard it.

Was just proposing one possible rule of thumb for re-investing some of the money currently spent being re-active, into proactive ways of doing our job that might provide more engagement for staff and better service to the public.