Uses for open data

This post was created automatically via an RSS feed and was originally published at http://hadleybeeman.net/2011/01/26/uses-for-open-data/

I’m often asked these days why people would bother with open data. (Here, I’m using LinkedGov’s definition of open data.)  I thought it would be useful to write down and gather some feedback, see if we can refine these categories further.

Thus far, it seems, the uses are boiling down to four categories:

1.  Transparency

Broadly speaking, this means getting a better view of what is going on inside government or the public sector.  This audience covers both the non-public sector and the public sector itself.

Examples:

  • Infrastructure:  Transport timetables, traffic information or road potholes for a journey planner app
  • Accountability:  Financial and budget statements for armchair auditors
  • Media:  Potential headlines and stories for journalists
  • Sharing information resources:  Formal research available to inform academic and professional enquiries (for example, data from NHS clinical studies informing projects hosted by universities or industry). This group also includes management and demographic statistics, like the number of people in a particular benefits programme
  • Status and progress updates: performance data, such as the number of outcomes met in a specific project
  • News: announcements about public sector activities, grant opportunities and new ways to interact with government
  • Community information:  local planning applications, crime statistics or upcoming events which impact a neighbourhood

2.  Delivering services to/on behalf of government

Open data allows commercial and third sector organisations to have a closer relationship with customers and funding sources in government and the public sector.

Examples:

  • Delivering front-line services on behalf of a governmental or public body:  As an example, the train operating companies might benefit from greater access to forecasts of passenger activity from Transport for London.
  • Marketing to government:  If a photocopier sales department can see which public sector offices are likely to need a new photocopier soon, they can target their marketing appropriately.

3.  Improving commercial activities outside of government

Many existing business models could benefit significantly from greater access to public data.  A few examples:

  • Smoothing commercial transactions. A tool for selecting the ideal import tariffs or a faster route of calculating tax could provide significant savings for a commercial goods company.
  • Enhancing an existing offering.  A tour operating company could plan more accurately (or prompt their clients to plan better) with weather data from the Met Office.
  • Targeting marketing.  Census data and council tax bands, for example, could help a new company work out where its target market is, helping them to concentrate their comms efforts in the most efficient place

4.  Efficiency

Much of the public sector could benefit from better access to their data and the information contained within it.  Examples include:

  • Procurement:  Comparing costs and existing contracts when looking at procurement for something new.
  • Evidence base: Better informed policy development and decision-making
  • Reducing the load: Less enquiries from the public (specifically requests under the Freedom of Information Act) and from within the public sector (for example, parliamentary questions from ministers to civil servants in their department).

What are your thoughts?  How can we refine this model and make it more complete?

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