Five Answers about Open Data

June 1, 2015 8:01 am PST | Data Apps & Visualization, Data as a Service

Pew Research Center recently published their findings on Americans’ views regarding open government data. This comprehensive report delves into the abstract world of how Americans are internalizing the open data movement. The results tell us how much (or how little) faith Americans have in government open data. Pew’s data help us effectively answer five important questions.

1. Who shares the data most effectively: local, state, or federal government?

The short answer is local government.

According to Pew, just five percent of survey respondents say the federal government “effectively” shares data with the public, while 39 percent believe government is only sharing data “somewhat effectively.” Seven percent of respondents say local government shares the data “effectively,” with another 45 percent responding “somewhat effectively.”  Another vote in local government’s favor? Nineteen percent of all all Americans who responded to the survey could think of an example where the local government did a good job providing information to the public about data it collects. If you’d like to see an example of local government in action, see how the City of Redmond uses open data to present a transparent budget and give citizens a peek into how their tax dollars are being spent.

2. What data are Americans looking for?

Citizens’ use of open data is growing but is not yet widespread. Pew finds 20 percent of survey respondents have used government sources to find information about student or teacher performance, 17 percent of respondents have used government sources to look for information on the performance of hospitals or health care providers, and seven percent have used government sources to find out about contracts between government agencies and outside firms.

3. How does trust in government impact the power of open data?

Collectively, Pew found 23 percent of Americans say they trust the federal government to do the right thing at least most of the time. Seventy percent of those who generally trust the federal government say government data can help government officials  be more accountable. Therefore, those who trust the government are more likely to see the benefits to open data — no surprise here.

Seventy-six percent of all survey respondents who expressed they generally trust the federal government have high hopes for open data. Of this 76 percent:

  • 73 percent believe government data can help journalists cover government more thoroughly
  • 71 percent back the idea open government data results in better government decisions
  • 70 percent agree with the notion government data can enable people to have a greater impact on government affairs
  • 69 say government data can improve the quality of government services

4. What data is acceptable to share and what is not?

Citizens believe that public information has changed over the years. In Pew’s Open Data Government Research Part 1, published in 2010, “going online for data or information about government activities [was] not associated with greater or lesser levels of trust in government.”  Over the past five years, the trend of open data has grown. Now, public trust in open data is related to the citizen’s trust in government.

  • 82 percent of respondents say they are comfortable with government sharing data online about the health and safety records of restaurants
  • 62 percent approve of government sharing information about the criminal records of individual citizens online
  • 60 percent accept government sharing data about the performance of individual teachers at schools online

When data reveals financial information, citizens become wary. Only 54 percent are comfortable with the government sharing data about real estate transactions online and 22 percent are comfortable with government sharing information about the mortgages of individual homeowners online.

5. Pew identifies four open government data personas. Which one are you?

These four open data personas consider the level of optimism and how government data initiatives could influence government as a whole.

Ardent Optimists: The number one advocate of government open data. Ardent Optimists are believers in the movement. They are confident it will increase government transparency for citizens, positively affect how citizens view the government, and give journalists the tools to perform more effectively. We agree.

Committed Cynics: Highly aware of what government data is being shared, and how it is being used. Although they may reap some benefits of online government resources, Committed Cynics still have their doubts on how government data will ultimately pay off in performance.

Buoyant Bystanders: Unlikely to seek out government data online. However, don’t let their lack of use fool you. This group instills a large amount of trust in the government and how these initiatives could bring government transparency and accountability to the table.

Dormant Doubters: Government isn’t the first thing they’ll be raving about. With a lack of trust in the government in the first place, they are not advocates of any open data initiatives, and don’t see how it will improve services. Allow us to convince them otherwise.  

Change is never easy. But at Socrata we wholeheartedly believe that the country is moving in the right direction — towards a transparent and data-driven government at local, state, and federal levels. Pew’s research gives us an incomparable look into the hearts and minds of citizens across the country and explores how the adoption of these initiatives is beginning to change governments and its citizens nationwide.

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