The End of Check Box Open Data

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Is open data something your agency has checked off its list of technology initiatives, only to move on to new projects? For many agencies, open data is something that has been marked as completed, even when it has failed to drive the results, innovation, conversations or changes in behavior that teams had originally hoped for at the onset of their initiatives.

In February of 2015, Government Technology Magazine asked Oakland CIO Brian Sastokas why he thought open data initiatives were not having the impact that they could. In the article, Sastokas suggested that many agencies shoot for quantity of data as a success metric, but fail to provide context around data, and do not publish data in a way that engages a majority of residents. Instead, he suggested agencies viewed simply having data available online as an end goal, and when that was completed they simply checked the open data box and moved on with other priorities, never realizing the real value that data could provide their key stakeholders.

The first iteration of many open data programs looked more like a race to publish as much information as possible, without much thought around who it would serve and what the desired outcomes were for a truly successful program. Instead, data was published and often left unattended, with minimal promotion, contextual information, or ways for most people to interact with it.

In the coming years, open data initiatives will continue to mature and ultimately fall into 2 categories: those that provide usable, relevant information to drive decisions will be considered successful, and those that stagnate, fail to engage users and cease to be widely used will not.

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One of the major challenges many agencies will find when aiming for successful outcomes will be driving ongoing usage of available data, and getting more people to understand what data means for their neighborhoods, their daily commutes, their schools, their natural resources and so many other aspects of everyday life.

To help agencies work to address this ongoing challenge, we’ve created the Guide to Engaging Communities with Open Data, which details how things like data visualization, cross promotion of topics and content, feedback loops, and targeted or action-based messaging can take an open data program from a check mark to an integral part of a digital engagement strategy.

By shifting goals of open data programs away from putting as much information online as possible, and moving toward creating an open data program that can help audiences understand how data impacts them and ultimately make better decisions as a result, agencies stand to make a massive impact on the way they’re able to serve their communities.

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