Many states have bought into the idea that releasing public data to citizens is not only good business but also a way to engage constituents and keep them informed.
With a few clicks online, citizens can access a list of severe weather alert systems throughout Missouri or learn how much state employees in Oregon are earning, based on job classifications. Most of the data released to the public are already published on individual agency websites or classified as public data, according to a new report by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO).
“However, today there are only a relative minority of people and organizations that can consume this data and put it to meaningful use,” according to the report, titled “States and Open Data: From Museum to Marketplace — What’s Next”?
The problem: a growing gap in digital literacy.
“Unless there is a strategy for bridging the gap in digital literacy, open data initiatives will not reach the full potential,” the report notes. “In fact, the digital divide will only increase making those without the necessary skills even more distant from their government.”
The digital literacy challenge exists across diverse populations of citizens, industries and government employees. With this in mind, NASCIO recommends that agencies ensure they understand:
• What is the business case for doing open-data initiatives and the cost versus the benefit
• Who is paying for these resources, and who is benefiting
• Who is consuming the data
• Are government employees, citizens and industry prepared to exploit the data
• What changes or advances in decision-making, civic engagement, accountability and creation of new information and knowledge are possible
This type of evaluation will help states move past what NASCIO refers to as the initial hype of open data, which entailed little more than posting data online.
NASCIO defines the first level of maturity in open data as the ideation state, or recognizing the value of open data initiatives and responding to citizens’ demands for openness and transparency. During the proliferation state, there was a push across the states to get more data onto government websites for consumption without much of a strategy — “other than to publish unless there is a good reason not to publish certain datasets.”
San Francisco, New York City and Seattle are among the cities with mature open-data strategies.
Developing a mature strategy involves greater decision-making about what to publish, how often to refresh published data and how to regularly measure efficacy of open-data initiatives, NASCIO’s report notes. “Data that does not prove to be useful, particularly if there is a significant number of such datasets, should be removed from open data sites.”
When used effectively, open-data initiatives can help states foster a government that is truly for the people and by the people. But NASCIO warns that open data does not guarantee a good government or the best government.
“Open data initiatives will mature in capabilities but that will require well planned governance and strategy that includes input from citizens.”