Promoting the Use of Open Data

This post was written in advance of the panel Business Models and Open Data at ConDatos 2015, the third Regional Conference of Open Data for Latin America and the Caribbean. To read the post in Spanish, click here. Fellow panelist Fernando Legrand at CapacitaRSE and moderator Mike Mora at OEA also wrote blog posts for the panel.

The global movement to open up government data is accelerating rapidly – and the goals of the movement are evolving at the same time. Over the last decade, countries around the world have recognized the importance of opening up data in the interest of good government. Open data on spending, contracting, and operations is a critical tool for improving transparency, accountability, and trust. The Open Government Partnership requires that participating countries ensure that “information on government activities and decisions is open, comprehensive, timely, freely available to the public and meets basic open data standards (e.g. raw data, machine readability).”

Recently, however, it’s become clear that open government data has value beyond transparency as well. This open data is a powerful resource that can be used to promote social good and drive economic growth. Nonprofit organizations and academic institutions around the world are using open government data for research and advocacy. And companies of all kinds are relying on open data as a critical business tool to help them develop new products and services and improve their organizational operations.

The business value of open data has become a major part of the rationale for government open data programs: It helps justify the money, time, and effort required to make this data truly open. But in order to make open data an effective business resource, governments have to be sure that they are releasing datasets that meet essential business needs. The only way to do that is to focus on the demand side of open data to understand who is using the data and how. Once they identify their data “customers,” government ministries can bring them in to understand their data needs more thoroughly and meet them more effectively.

At the Center for Open Data Enterprise, we have developed systematic ways to map the uses of open data and help data providers and users work together toward common goals. Our mission is to maximize the value of open data as a public resource that anyone can use. To do that, we are working with governments and organizations around the world on two major projects: The Open Data Impact Map and a series of Open Data Roundtables in the U.S. and other countries.

The Impact Map: Understanding open data for business

The Open Data Impact Map, developed as part of the Open Data for Development network, is a global view that shows how data is being used by both for-profit companies and nonprofits. It now includes over 1,000 organizations based in over 80 countries in a database that can be filtered by location, type, sector, and data use. We compile these open data use cases through surveys completed by the organizations, extensive research done by our staff, and the help of more than 20 regional supporters. The survey is available in seven languages to make it accessible worldwide and ensure a diverse collection of use cases. Our regional supporters are familiar with the open data ecosystem in their own countries and regions; they provide insight on national trends and recommend organizations that are using open data.

Through the Open Data Impact Map, we’ve learned about many fascinating examples of open data use, including a large number in Latin America and the Caribbean, such as these:

  • Poderopedia (Chile) has built a collaborative platform that maps data journalism in business and politics.
  • Agroclima (Mexico) gives access to information on weather, climate forecasting, and the expected impact of climate change on agriculture and livestock. Its Agricultural Information System is designed to improve decision-making for the agricultural industry.
  • The Slashroots Foundation (Jamaica) is a civic tech non-profit that works on solutions to social problems in the Caribbean region such as praedial larceny, the theft of livestock and agricultural produce.
  • Properati (Argentina) is a real estate web and mobile platform that was created to change the way people sell and rent properties in Latin America
  • Molecula (Uruguay) is a startup that leverages national consumer data to develop IT products with a special emphasis on projects with a positive impact on society.
  • Marcos y Asociados (Mexico) offers financial and business development consultant services specializing in the Mexican infrastructure and the energy industry, using national government operations data.
  • Medicinia (Brazil) is an web/mobile platform that uses national health data from Brazil to connect healthcare teams, patients, medical records, and devices in clinics, hospitals and healthcare systems.

Examples from the Map show that the business use of open data crosses different industries, types of organizations, and applications. The consistent theme is that open government data has both economic value and a positive social impact. Many for-profit companies are using open data to improve healthcare, transportation, financial services, energy use, and other key products and services that serve the public good.

Open Data Roundtables: Bringing data providers and users together

Our Center’s Open Data Roundtables began as a national program in the United States. Through Roundtables with U.S. federal agencies, we have convened government data providers and their data users to identify high value datasets and develop solutions to make data more accurate, complete, usable, and easy to work with. The Roundtables, which were first launched as an initiative of The GovLab at NYU, also help establish public-private partnerships to improve and disseminate open data.

These Roundtables have both short-term and long-term benefits. They have helped develop new ways to apply open data, which can include hackathons and apps challenges, and have advanced a culture of open data in several federal agencies. In the long term, the Roundtables are intended to help launch new data-driven companies, products, and services, and help government agencies release more open data for business use.

Now, through work with the World Bank and several countries’ governments, our staff has begun to do similar Roundtables around the world to bring the business community together with government in the interest of putting open data to use. Our experience in countries as diverse as India, Kazakhstan, and Serbia has shown that these convenings have value whether a government has an advanced open data ecosystem with many organizations using its data, or is just starting to explore the potential for its use. Open Data Roundtables can be held at the national or local level – wherever a government wants to engage with its current and prospective data users.

Moving forward: Putting open data to use

Governments have many ways to drive awareness of open data initiatives and proactively engage their users. In the United States, the Office of Management and Budget is requesting reports from government agencies that outline how external users – such as businesses, researchers, and non-profits – are using agency data, and asking about the impact of that use. Other countries can do the same – and individuals within government agencies can promote open data as well. By understanding data uses and data users, change agents within government can develop a strong case for releasing more open data in more effective ways.

Governments can and should prioritize resources to raise awareness of open data initiatives, ensure government staff are trained on open data strategies, and establish feedback loops to learn continuously from their data users. The end result will be the democratization of data, with government culture, strategies, and actions that promote open data for all.

This Thursday, September 10 don’t miss the panel “Business Models and Open Data” at ConDatos 2015, the third Regional Conference of Open Data for Latin America and the Caribbean, in Santiago, Chile. The panel, moderated by Mike Mora (OAS), will include panelists Natalia Carfi (LabGCBA), Katherine Garcia (Center for Open Data Enterprise), Fernando Legrand (CapacitaRSE) and Diego May (Junar).

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