Define Clear and Measurable Goals

How to Define Goals

In “Why Open Data, Why Now?” we presented a framework for aligning your open data strategy with the big picture opportunity for government: to improve performance, meet citizen expectations, and drive innovation.

In our experience, the most successful open data initiatives identify their open data goals from the outset based on their priorities as an organization.

“The vision is to transform how citizens and government interface. Make it easier for citizens to get what they need.” Kristen Russell, Secretary of Technology and Chief Information Officer, State of Colorado.

In this section, we present specific outcomes that you can use to define your own strategic and tactical goals for your open data initiative. While the list below is not exhaustive, it covers many elements of a successful open data strategy. Use it to develop your own, based on the specific context of your city, county, state, or federal agency.

Sage Advice – The Golden Rules of Open Data

  1. Have Mission-Based Goals

    Before you get too far into your project, define your mission. Ask what your organization would like to achieve with this project, what problems you hope to solve or new innovations you’d like to start. Success with your open data initiative is much easier when you have a clear strategy and goals that are aligned.

  2. Don’t Make Open Data an IT-Only Project

    Granted, “open data” sounds geeky, but it is about putting valuable information in the hands of citizens, not just adding a new technology for the IT team to manage. Get everyone who works with citizens, or who manages information for them, to own the overall strategy.

  3. Be Humble and Leverage the Community

    You and your team don’t have all the answers. Whether you’re looking to put on your first hackathon or need to get some positive publicity for your project, leverage the community. You have plenty of talented, enthusiastic community members you can ask for help.

  4. Don’t Treat Open Data as a Side Project

    Co-workers who feel overwhelmed by their current responsibilities may want to treat the open data initiative as a side project. They may give you a minimal amount of data and move on. Prevent this by connecting the open data work with their mission and their daily workload. Show them how open data can help them be more efficient and effective.

  5. Adopt an “Open by Default” Policy

    As you build out your open data initiative, questions will come up about whether certain datasets are useful enough or appropriate to publish as open data. If you follow an “open by default” policy, you consider any information that is public already, and does not have personal information about citizens, worthy of being published as open data. You may need help from leadership to push an actual policy through.

  6. Don’t Get Stuck on Data Quality Issues

    Everybody knows that data quality is not perfect all the time. You’d be surprised how forgiving people are of imperfect data. And, what will surprise you more is how willing people are to help you fix it. Watch the USAID Crowdsourcing Project video

  7. Think Beyond the Catalog

    Open data portals typically offer, at a minimum, a list of datasets for users to search. While a great place to start, that method doesn’t encourage citizens to make connections between datasets or integrate the information easily into their everyday lives. More effective uses of open data would be a mobile map of clinic locations or a chart of crime levels by neighborhood that shows up when searching for housing.

  8. Don’t Be Afraid of Transparency

    Change can be difficult. As you move to make more data available, you may hear questions like, “Will there be a backlash when we publish salaries? Contracts? Lobbyist data?” Our customers have found out that media and community response to greater transparency is overwhelmingly positive. It builds trust rather than hurting it.

  9. Be an Evangelist and Have Fun

    Open data is an exciting endeavor that will certainly touch citizens lives. It also can help make government employees’ jobs more satisfying because they have more facts with which to solve problems. Helping your co-workers understand the impact they can make with active participation will be part of your role as a leader. Read the “Why Open Data” section for inspiration.

  10. Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

    The open data movement has been a collaborative effort since its earliest days. Everybody builds on the effort of others and shares resources and lessons learned. We encourage you to copy liberally from successful Socrata customers like New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Maryland, Oregon,, Medicare, The World Bank and others.

Why Governments Should Embrace Data-Driven Decision Making

Why make decisions with data? As it turns out, gut decisions often prove to be expensive and dangerous.

Guidelines for Goal Setting

Align Your Goals with Your Mission

Your organization is accountable for a number of outcomes, whether they are part of the normal course of running a government agency or they are part of your chief executive’s agenda. Think of your open data program as another tool to support your mission.

Here are some recommendations:

  • Review your own organization’s strategic plan, such as a Governor’s Action Plan. Then, identify the information flows that you could streamline and that would have the biggest impact on mission attainment. See “Bus Ridership” example below.

  • Inventory the data requirements that support some or all these goals.

  • Adapt the user experience to fit each stakeholder group, be they citizens, businesses, partners, employees, or your own leadership.

Practical Example – How Does Open Data Support the Goal of Increasing Bus Ridership?

Open Data Goal Stakeholders Basic Data Requirements Usability and Experience Requirements

Increase Bus Ridership

  • Residents
  • Businesses
  • Transit authority
  • Neighboring cities
  • Planning department
  • Bus schedules
  • Location of bus stops
  • Real-time bus arrival information
  • Ridership stats, trends, and goals
  • Impact on environment
  • Economic impact
  • Budget impact
  • Raw data in open formats, and domain-specific open standards like GTFS
  • Open APIs for app developers
  • Ridership stats dashboard with easy visualizations
  • Interactive, searchable maps (not PDFs!) on .gov site showing routes, stops, etc.
  • Basic SMS gateway to receive alerts and arrival times
  • An online forum for citizen feedback
  • A mobile app

Adapt Open Data Goals to Your Local Context

Your local needs should inform goal setting for your open data initiative.

Maybe you live in a region that gets a lot of snow and your residents need access to information that helps them cope on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps, your state is prone to hurricanes and you need to make sure that emergency readiness and response data is accessible to everyone in a timely and usable fashion.

See great examples of local apps like Chicago’s “Winter Apps” and Boston’s “Adopt a Fire Hydrant.”

Open Data Goal Stakeholders Basic Data Requirements Usability and Experience Requirements

Support Community Preparedness During Snow Storms

  • Residents
  • Businesses
  • Road closures and snow routes
  • Parking restrictions
  • Sand and salt locations
  • Locations of snow plows
  • Locations of fire hydrants that need to be cleared
  • Raw data in open formats
  • Downloadable Shapefile and KML files for location data
  • Interactive maps for residents
  • Near real-time updates on road conditions and snow plow locations
  • A “Winter app” that brings these resources together for citizens
  • A community engagement app like Boston’s “Adopt a Fire Hydrant” app

Common Goals for Open Data Initiatives

One of the primary reasons for starting an open data initiative is to deliver on the promise of transparency. Given how citizens demand it, and the momentum generated by the early open data adopters, providing transparency is no longer up for debate. So, you might as well get in front of it and earn the trust of your constituents now.

Follow these recommendations:

  1. Your goal should be to achieve a “10 out of 10” on transparency, according to grades given by watchdog organizations like U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) and Sunshine Review.

  2. At a minimum, use your open data program to provide the raw data on financial information like budgets, taxes, contracts, and expenditures, as well as “ethics information” like lobbying, conflict of interest disclosures, and campaign contributions. (See Chapter 4, The Data Plan, for more on data transparency.)

  3. Make sure that your data is presented in a way that helps people understand facts and want to share them. Pie charts and bar graphs can help. You might try, for instance, an open checkbook application that makes expenditure data easy to access and understand.

Socrata Open Budget provides an easy way to present transaction-level financial transparency. Click here to learn more!

To improve performance of citizen services, publish all your service performance metrics online, grouped by category and updated at least monthly. Improvements can include resolution rates for 311 requests and average days to issue a license.

Check out the Sunshine Review’s Transparency Checklist and Sunlight Foundation’s many resources.

Food for Thought – More example goals for open data initiatives

Strategic Imperative Objective Goal(s) Examples and Success Measures

Meet the needs of a 21st century constituency

Increase transparency and accountability without increasing costs

Make all your financial data, like budgets, taxes, and expenditures, available online in a usable way.

Grades by watchdog organizations like U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG)
and Sunshine Review

Make all ethics data available online.

Same as above.

Information about lobbying, conflict of interest disclosure, and campaign contributions available in an easily discoverable and digestible format.

Shift to the proactive disclosure of frequently requested public information of any kind, with the goal to reduce staff time and costs by 10 to 20 percent in the first year.

Percentage of all public information requests deflected to self-service channels and money saved.

Reduce calls to 311, FOIA requests, or other forms of public information requests from journalists, residents, or businesses.

Example: State of Oregon Business listings embed on their site

Improve quality of life for constituents

Launch five new quality of life apps (web/mobile) for citizens in the first year, on web and mobile.

Usage of the apps and citizen satisfaction surveys.

Examples: Check out Somerville’s 311 Explorer

Bring the citizen experience to the modern era

Replace clunky, confusing interfaces and inaccessible file formats like KML and Shapefiles with maps, charts, other visual content, and apps that are mobile-friendly.

Web usability surveys and increased usage.

Examples: Health System Measurement Project, King County Elections – Mobile Open Data

Improve government performance

Promote internal collaboration

Convene agencies to pool their data to create information resources that support common goals in health, education, and social services, such as reduced childhood obesity and improved early childhood education. Optimize for mobile where it makes sense.

Number of data silos eliminated, number of new online information resources made available to citizens and days saved.

Improve agency performance and productivity

Empower program managers, public information officers, and e-government leaders to publish information resources that help them deliver better services.

Money saved, time saved, and citizen satisfaction.

Example: State of Oregon Marine Board Case study

Reduce costs and environmental impact

Eliminate paper-based reports and replace them with interactive, online reports.

Money saved and time saved.

Example: State of WA Salmon Report Case Study

Leverage your ecosystem for innovation

Support entrepreneurship and innovation in your community

Foster a sustainable app ecosystem and a vibrant developer community around your data.

Number of apps created, number of apps reused, citizen adoption of these apps, number of businesses created, and economic activity generated. Example: Making Dollars and Sense of the Open Data Economy

Collaborate with other jurisdictions

Create a converged data site with neighboring cities, counties or states. Federate your data to the national catalog,

Citizen adoption and usage.