Menu 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 management, user 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

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.

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

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. It interprets economic research on Open Data and identifies best practices and legal, regulatory and technical standards for open economic data. Its blog features positive effects that opening data has had in economics and shows how economists can mainstream the openness concept.

  • 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. The framework would leverage the value of Open Data, generate social and economic benefits and help transform data use to improve personal, government and corporate decision-making and support growth. The NIF approach includes Open Data policies, standards, metadata and more, and would potentially include information derived from the private sector and entire public sector.

  • 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. It discusses how PSI is used inside and outside of government and identifies barriers, such as competitiveness, funding and regulation, to fully exploiting its value.

  • 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. The study concludes that there are direct financial benefits from the Danish agreement, and the most recent data showed that the private sector reaped the greatest benefits. Not all expected benefits of the agreement, however, had been realized when the study was published.

  • 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. The responses illuminated a variety of concerns, including the potential for other people altering the released data and negative public relations that could result from the data. Crowdsourcing was used again to learn how others responded to those concerns, and the answers were published in a 10-part blog series, #WhyOpenData.

  • 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. Concerns with the clarification of Open Data policies, the right to privacy and the fact that some civil and public servants lack the skills to interpret data properly are also discussed, as well as areas that have shown improvement.

  • 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

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

  • 8 Principles of Open Government Data. These principles were first established by open government advocates in 2007. In short, they state that government data can be considered open if they are made available in a form that is complete; primary; timely; accessible; machine processable; non-discriminatory; non-proprietary; and license free.

  • UK Open Data White Paper: Unleashing the Potential. Published in 2012, this paper presents a detailed approach to the U.K.’s plan to unlock the potential of Open Data. The plan consists of three general steps: Enhancing access to and strengthening data usability; building trust in public data; and providing smarter, more effective capabilities to use and share data. Objectives and potential outcomes of the plan include getting more data into the public domain and ensuring that data are accurate, shared responsibly and easy to use and obtain.

  • Australian Gov 2.0 Taskforce Report. This report, published in 2009, presents Australia’s plan to integrate Web 2.0 collaborative technologies, communities and tools into government policy, service delivery and regulation issues. Called Government 2.0, this approach to governing helps public agencies become more responsive, innovative and citizen-centric, as well as open and accountable. One of its three central objectives is allowing open access to public sector information, and exploiting the full social and economic value of this information as a national resource managed for public purposes.

  • Open Government Guide (Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press). This is a compendium of information on U.S. state laws that address the disclosure of open records and attendance at open meetings. Organized into two parts (e.g., access to records and access to meetings), it details the rights of reporters and other citizens to see information such as police records and voting results, and to attend official meetings, including those of state and local governments. The Open Government Guide makes it easy to compare laws across U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

  • New Zealand’s Journey to Open Data. This presentation, produced in 2012, provides guidance to New Zealand government agencies about releasing copyrighted and non-copyrighted materials for re-use by third parties. In 2011, public service departments were directed by a declaration to release high-value public data for re-use, in accordance with Open Data principles. High-value data are those with economic and social, transparency and democratic, and/or efficiency outcomes.

  • 6 Steps to Open Data Success (Socrata). A summary of key steps to building an effective Open Data program. These include: 1. Start with small, easy datasets; 2. Focus on promoting transparency; 3. Ask the development community for insights on data usefulness and accessibility; 4. Increase internal participation and get colleagues on board; 5. Optimize for efficiency and save time and money; and 6. Share and pool data with neighboring cities, states and countries for additional benefits.

  • The Closed World of Company Data. This report, published in 2012 by OpenCorporates, examines the openness of companies in Open Government Partnership countries. OpenCorporates asserts that the world is increasingly dominated by interconnected global companies and that open access to key information, including core datasets that affect our lives, is a fundamental principle of free markets and democracy. It notes that many companies restrict access to information, which impacts the ability of stakeholders, employees and society at large to understand and influence companies and hold them accountable, and enables the potential for corporate corruption.

  • OECD: Open Government Data - Towards Empirical Analysis of Open Government Data Initiatives. This paper explores the principles, concepts and criteria of open government data (OGD) initiatives and the challenges to their implementation at central and local levels of government. Authored by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, it outlines a methodology to analyze the value of OGD initiatives, provides an analytical framework for the initiatives and recommends data to be collected across OECD countries. Applying the framework and collecting data could lead to the development of a common set of metrics with which to assess OGD impacts and value creation within and across countries.

  • Sunlight Foundation: Guidelines for Open Data Policies. These policy guidelines include recommendations on what data should be made public, how to make it public and how to implement policy. Topics addressed include guidance on what an Open Data policy can and should do when the objective is to create a government data ecosystem where Open Data is the default. Setting a data default to “open” indicates that a government is proactive about making public information available online and without barriers for re-use, and about making decisions in the public interest.

  • Briefing on Open Data Policy Declarations. A “policy declaration” is intended to provide a clear signal of political intent on the part of a government in relation to an Open Data initiative. This briefing provides background and considerations for the formulation of Open Data policy declarations.

Examples of Open Data Policies

Open Data Learning Resources

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 Field Guide (Socrata). Collection of lessons learned by pioneers of the Open Data movement; for public servants in government, non-profits and NGOs

  • 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.