The State of Open Data – Winning Politicians to Unfunded Mandates

A few months ago, we teamed up with the folks at Socrata to ask GovLoopers “What’s the State of Open Data?”

Well…the results are in…check it out below – key take aways for me – people like Open Data and helps get politicians elected, it is often unfunded, and citizens have not been made aware yet

Citizens by a 3 to 1 Margin Are More Likely to Vote For Politicians Who Champion Open Government

Despite broad support for the idea of open government 65% of citizens remain unaware of Open Data initiatives.

SEATTLE – December 15, 2010 –– Socrata, Inc., together with public advocacy organizations and Government 2.0 thought leaders Sunlight Foundation, Personal Democracy Forum, GovLoop, Code for America and David Eaves, today released the findings of the Open Government Data Benchmark Study, which surveyed citizens, government employees and civic application developers to assess the state of Open Data from their perspectives.

The study reveals strong support for Open Data among citizens and government employees alike. 67.9% of citizens and 92.6% of government employees believe if data is public it should be available online. Moreover, citizens, by a 3 to 1 margin, are more likely to vote for politicians who champion Open Government. The study also shows that progress has been made with 55.6% of government organizations reporting they have a mandate to share public data with their constituents and 48.1% already publish data in some fashion.

However, challenges remain. For example, only 28.1% of government employees said the Open Government mandate is funded. 65% of citizens surveyed are unaware of Open Data initiatives by their government. 56.3% of civic developers say they cannot find the data they need to enable their applications and when they do, 54.8% said it is not accessible in a usable format.

The complete findings are available online at featuring interactive datasets and summary charts from all three surveys. The study highlights can also be visualized on or downloaded in a printable report.

Among the major findings of the study:

  • 63% of citizens prefer exploring and interacting with data online, while only 16% prefer to download and analyze the data in a spreadsheet. Downloadable files are currently the prevalent mode of disseminating government data.
  • 65.7% of developers said that data is not accessible via an Application Programming Interface (API).
  • 54% of Government stakeholders cited compliance with executive or legislative mandate as the primary driver of Open Data initiatives.
  • 61.4% of citizens and 88.3% of government stakeholders believe that developers and entrepreneurs will transform government data assets into useful applications and services.
  • 67.9% of citizens and 91% of government employees feel that government public data is the property of taxpayers and should be free to all citizens.
  • 43.6% of developers cite the potential for their applications to impact people’s daily lives as their primary motivator.

Current State of Open Data Initiatives

23.8% of government organizations surveyed have launched a coordinated and centralized open data site while 24.3% indicated that some data is being published by different groups within their organization, on different sections and pages on their government website. 26.6% indicated they were in the planning stages of their open data initiative while 16.8% said they had no plans for an Open Data site.

When asked what the major obstacles are that Open Data proponents in government face, 27% of respondents cited lack of political will or leadership as the top issue, followed by lack of funding (19%) and privacy and security concerns (16.5%).

Engagement and Participation Slowly Taking Shape

When asked if their government organizations are actively engaging constituents and promoting citizen participation in their Open Data initiative, 30.9% government stakeholders said “yes”, while 21% said they plan to in the future, 21.5% said “no” and 26.5% were unsure. 21.9% said they are already soliciting public feedback to help identify important datasets.

Citizens, on the other hand, showed a desire to engage with the government in their Open Data initiatives, with 36% indicating they would like to be involved versus 33% who are “just happy to get the data.” The desire to engage with government is highest among citizens with at least a university degree (49%), who live in the West or the North East (44% and 42% respectively) or who are over 55 years of age (44%).

Government stakeholders also indicated that 21.5% of government organizations are actively engaging with developers to build applications, with another 14.4% planning to do so in the future. Still, 40.9% stated they had no current plans to engage developers.

The Way Forward

In each of the three surveys Socrata asked the respondents to weigh in on how to improve the Open Data experience from their perspective to better meet their needs.

Citizens identified what they consider high-value categories of data. The five most important data categories are public safety (56.5%), revenue and expenditure (52.7%) accountability (e.g. campaign finance, voting records), education and information about where and how government services can be accessed. With respect to accessing data, citizens, by a 3 to 1 margin, prefer exploring and interacting with data online (63%) to downloading it in a spreadsheet (16%). As a matter of fact, downloading data, which is currently the most prevalent consumption method of government data ranked much lower than browsing pre-made visualizations (37%) or data discovery through social interactions and community feedback (29%).

Government stakeholders for their part, highlighted the need for better enabling technology starting with data extraction, transformation and loading tools (63%), visualization tools for charting and mapping (57%), data export tools for multi-format downloads (53%) and common APIs across datasets (50%).

Lastly, when developers were asked what would be most important to help them use government data efficiently they stated the availability of relevant data (56.7%), open APIs to access data and metadata (50%) and better data quality (46.7%) as their most pressing needs.

About the Open Data Benchmark Study

This report is based on data from three surveys conducted between August and October 2010. The citizen survey was commissioned by Socrata and conducted online by research firm Vision Critical. The survey covered a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults in the United States. The Government survey was conducted online by Socrata and covered 300 self-identified government employees. The developer survey was also conducted by Socrata and covered 50 civic application developers. The Study was conducted with the support of advocacy organizations and Government 2.0 thought leaders Sunlight Foundation , Personal Democracy Forum, GovLoop, Code for America and David Eaves.

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