Skip to Main Navigation

Starting an Open Data Initiative

Starting an Open Data Initiative

This section provides some of the tools that governments will need to take the first steps in an Open Data initiative. It is intended for public sector managers and staff who have been tasked with coordinating or organizing an Open Data initiative.

As planning for an Open Data initiative takes shape and the number of participants expands, other sections of this toolkit will become relevant to various roles, including technology managementuser engagement, and data production. In the very early stages of planning, technical support and the Open Data Readiness Assessment are also relevant.

Benefits of Open Data

Back to local navigation

As with any public initiative, Open Data involves some expenditure of public resources and effort. As such, public officials are often interested in the benefits of Open Data compared to the levels of required effort.

Similar to other global commodities, data has significant potential to provide benefits. In fact, data has been referred to as the new oil, because while both data and oil have intrinsic value, they both must be “refined” or otherwise transformed to realize their full potential. When government data are made accessible and re-usable, they enable individuals, organizations and even governments themselves to innovate and collaborate in new ways.

From accelerating economic growth to ensuring government accountability, Open Data can benefit citizens, organizations – and the governments themselves.

From accelerating economic growth to ensuring government accountability, Open Data can benefit citizens, organizations – and the governments themselves.

Broadly speaking, the benefits of Open Data include:

  • Transparency. Open Data supports public oversight of governments and helps reduce corruption by enabling greater transparency. For instance, Open Data makes it easier to monitor government activities, such as tracking public budget expenditures and impacts. It also encourages greater citizen participation in government affairs and supports democratic societies by providing information about voting procedures, locations and ballot issues.

  • Public Service Improvement. Open Data gives citizens the raw materials they need to engage their governments and contribute to the improvement of public services. For instance, citizens can use Open Data to contribute to public planning, or provide feedback to government ministries on service quality.

  • Innovation and Economic Value. Public data, and their re-use, are key resources for social innovation and economic growth. Open Data provides new opportunities for governments to collaborate with citizens and evaluate public services by giving citizens access to data about those services. Businesses and entrepreneurs are using Open Data to better understand potential markets and build new data-driven products.


Efficiency. Open Data makes it easier and less costly for government ministries to discover and access their own data or data from other ministries, which reduces acquisition costs, redundancy and overhead. Open Data can also empower citizens with the ability to alert governments to gaps in public datasets and to provide more accurate information.

Key Research on Open Data Benefits

The World Bank
Source: McKinsey Global Institute Analysis


Open data: Unlocking innovation and performance with liquid information (McKinsey Global Institute). This seminal report estimates that Open Data can help unlock $3-5 trillion in economic value annually across seven sectors in the United States alone.

Exploring the emerging impacts of open data in developing countries. This is a multi-country, multi-year study led by the World Wide Web Foundation to understand how Open Data is being put to use in different countries and contexts across the developing world.


Additional Reading

These links provide more information on the benefits of Open Data.


  • Open Data and Economic Growth (Open Government Partnership). This blog discusses how Open Data can be a robust driver of economic growth, and cites three main channels along which such growth can occur: Business innovation, business creation and business efficiency.

  • Costs and Benefits of Data Provision (Australian National Data Service). This 2011 study examines the costs and benefits to public sector organizations that make their data freely available. The study, by the Centre for Strategic Economic Studies at Victoria University, focuses on separate and collective costs and benefits to the organizations and users as well as the wider benefits to the economy.

  • The Benefits of Open Data – Evidence from Economic Research (Open Economics Working Group, OKF). This group advocates for economics to be built on transparent foundations and for economic data and analysis to be made available to all of society, not just economists. (more…)

  • OKF Live Document on Evidence & Anecdotes for Open Gov Data (Open Knowledge Foundation). This presentation provides examples to support opening government data, and cites key benefits that occur when governments open data, i.e., it helps drive the creation of innovative businesses and services that deliver social and commercial value, and encourages government transparency and citizen engagement.

  • A National Information Framework for Public Sector Information and Open Data (Advisory Panel on Public Sector Information). In addition to embracing government initiatives on opening public datasets, this paper argues for implementing the National Information Framework (NIF), a strategic infrastructure. (more…)

  • Shakespeare Review: An Independent Review of Public Sector Information (Stephan Shakespeare). Based on a commissioned market assessment of public sector information (PSI) and public opinion surveys, this review assesses the economic and social value of PSI in the UK. It evaluates the size, reach and nature of the market for PSI, the information of greatest interest to citizens and how they use it, and citizens’ policy preferences. It also addresses PSI privacy, capability, evidence and ownership.

  • Market Assessment of Public Sector Information by Deloitte (UK Department for Business Innovation & Skills). This market assessment, written by Deloitte and commissioned by the Department for Business Innovation & Skills, is the first UK-wide market assessment of PSI. It establishes an evidence base regarding the value of PSI and highlights policy implications from a study of how it could be better utilized. (more…)

  • Open Government Promotional Video by OGP (Open Government Partnership). A short video that highlights examples of how Open Data has made federal, state and local governments in regions such as Tanzania, Chile and New York work harder for their people. In one example, hospitals in the UK started to compete after heart surgery success rates were published, and survival rates improved by 50%.

  • La Innovación en Servicios en España (Rooter). This study, authored by a firm specializing in analysis, strategic consulting and legal services, is available only in Spanish.

  • Reutilización de información pública y privada en España (Rooter). This study, authored by a firm specializing in analysis, strategic consulting and legal services, is available only in Spanish.

  • The value of Danish address data: Social benefits from the 2002 agreement on procuring address data etc. free of charge (Presentation) (Danish Enterprise and Construction Authority). This 2010 study analyzes the value of and benefits associated with the release of Danish address data, including geographic coordinates, which were made available to the public in 2002. (more…)

  • Sunlight Foundation: Why Open Data?. To understand the barriers that governments, organizations and institutions face when opening data, the Sunlight Foundation used crowdsourcing to collect 50+ commonly cited reasons for not releasing data, from sources both inside and outside of government. (more…)

  • Statistics and Open Data: Harvesting unused knowledge, empowering citizens and improving public services (House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee). This study posits that many opportunities to harvest unused knowledge, in the form of data, are currently wasted, when that knowledge could be used to benefit the economy and society as a whole. (more…)

  • Open Financial Data. This report from the World Bank evaluates the potential for using open financial data to increase citizen engagement in the delivery of public goods and services.

  • Open Data as a tool to fight corruption (European Public Sector Information Platform). This report cites three potential solutions in which the release and re-use of Open Data could help curb government corruption and bureaucracy: By identifying the different types of corruption in various sectors; by suggesting relevant data that should be released in a particular context; and by demonstrating best practices of information and data re-use to provide transparency in these sectors.


Open Data Policies

Back to local Navigation

Open Data policies serve two groups of users: Governments and other “supply-side” organizations, and citizens and other data consumers. Each group gains distinct benefits and assistance from Open Data policies. For governments, ministries and supply-side organizations, policies provide guidance, instructions, requirements and tools for implementing Open Data. Policies often spell out which types of data may not be considered open and why, and how to safeguard sensitive information. They may also establish governance of the Open Data initiative, describe inter-agency working groups and provide points of contact.

For user groups comprised of citizens, civil society organizations, businesses, researchers, and data consumers, Open Data policies clearly define which data are or will be made public, how and where to acquire data, standards for providing data and metadata (which also foster accountability) and how to engage with the government or producing agency.

Policies aid both data consumers and data producers by clearly outlining the standards, processes and requirements for offering and acquiring public information.

An additional benefit of Open Data policies is the insight they provide into a government’s internal procedures for managing the Open Data initiative, which helps consumers better understand the data ecosystem. Since governments are often important consumers of their own data, Open Data policies can be helpful to governments from the standpoint of both the consumer and producer.

Guidance on Open Data Policies

Examples of Open Data Policies

Open Data Learning Resources

Back to local Navigation

Books, handbooks, manuals, presentations and other training materials on the topic of Open Data:

  • Open Data Online Learning (World Bank). The World Bank has developed a 3-course e-learning series to provide knowledge and skills to practitioners and users of open data. Each course in the series is designed for a distinct user segment, and provides deep technical skills, extensive examples and case studies, with an emphasis on open data in developing countries

  • Open Data at the World Bank. PowerPoint presentation summarizing the World Bank’s Open Data initiative; typically used as part of in-country training sessions

  • Guidelines on Open Data for Citizen Engagement (United Nations). Guidance to help policymakers and technologists – especially those in developing countries – understand, design, implement and maintain open government initiatives

  • Open Data Handbook (OKFN). Details the “why, what and how” of Open Data; especially helpful for those responsible for opening government data

  • Data Wrangling Handbook (School of Data). Provides a glossary and explains the basic stages of data processing (e.g., acquisition, extraction, cleaning, transformation, integration, analysis, presentation); for all experience levels

  • Data Journalism Handbook (European Journalism Centre & OKFN). Open-source reference book exploring data journalism

  • Open Data: An Introduction (OKFN). Overview of requirements for Open Data and related content; advocates using “openness” to contribute to open knowledge

  • Open Data Guides Series (ODI). This series provides background and training on specific topics such as licensing, data anonymizing, making the business case for open data, and many more. This collection expands over time.

  • Open Data Research Network. Network that connects researchers from across the world who are exploring the implementation and impact of Open Data initiatives

  • Beyond Transparency: Open Data and the Future of Civic Innovation. Book that surveys Open Data, with a focus on its civic applications; practitioners discuss their accomplishments with open civic data

  • Open Data for Resilience Initiative (DRI) Field Guide (World Bank). Discusses how to craft a strategic vision, budget and hire personnel for and evaluate impacts of Open Data and implement the Open DRI vision to build resilient societies; intended to improve access to disaster risk management data from public data catalogs; especially helpful for planners and program officers

  • Open Data: Challenges and Opportunities for National Statistical Offices (World Bank). Provides an analysis of the opportunities and challenges that Open Data presents to NSOs and the steps and solutions needed to enable NSOs to play a valuable role in national or subnational Open Data initiatives

  • Community Informatics and Open Government Data. Special issue of the Journal of Community Informatics explores the connections between open government data and other topics such as transparency, Right to Information Laws, regulation and public planning.

  • Supporting sustainable development with open data. This report sets out ways that governments, donors, NGOs, civil society and industry can apply open data to help realize the sustainable development goals

  • Analytical Report 6: Open Data in Cities 2. This report investigates the Open Data initiatives in eight medium-sized European cities: Dublin, Florence, Gdansk, Ghent, Helsinki, Lisbon, Thessaloniki, and Vilnius.