Who Should Read This Guide, and Why

Any person involved in serving the public good — whether as an elected official, government employee, or a member of a nonprofit or nongovernmental organization — will benefit from the insights, strategies, and tools within this guide.

The powerful lessons in this field guide will help if you’re an:

  • Elected official, either in the U.S. or anywhere in the world, looking to make history and move your constituency’s experience with government into the 21st century

  • Involved in education administration, and eager to make fact-based decisions

  • A government employee or leader at any size government: from a sprawling metropolis to a small county

  • An employee of an organization that deals with data stored in PDFs

  • Interested or involved in the open data movement

Why Should I Read This Guide?

  • The volume of information available in 21st century democracies has made their citizens some of the most informed and empowered people in history. Most important, tech-savvy and data-hungry citizens expect the same level of always-on services and public information as they get from the other brands that serve them. Now, the governments serving this tech-savvy, data-hungry public are under immense pressure to deliver public information as efficiently as Yelp publishes restaurant reviews.

  • With open data, which uses tools like cloud-based technology and APIs, governments can easily provide information to citizens and make data-driven policy decisions. And, they can spend less time and money than ever before to do so.

  • Around the world, forward-thinking governments have already embraced and begun to experiment with this burgeoning field. They’ve created real-time dashboards with government performance metrics, APIs to help developers build apps using public information, shared budgets and expenditures online, and more.

  • The open data movement is gaining strength every day. In this field guide, you’ll find lessons, best practices, and strategic advice from open data pioneers and experts. Ideally, this guide will help you think through your options, get advice from the best in the field, and use proven tools to reach success with your open data initiative as quickly as possible.

The Benefits of Open Data

As governments increasingly embrace the open data revolution, the advantages of being data-driven have grown apparent. An open government saves money and increases employee efficiency. Open data also drives smart, data-driven policy, fosters better communities in which to live and work, creates an economic engine, and helps governments run more effectively.

Improve Quality of Life

Having information freely available allows citizens to make informed decisions in everyday life, from researching neighborhood safety before purchasing a home, to checking transportation times before heading to the bus stop. But an open, data-driven government can do much more — data can increase government’s impact on sustainable prosperity and well-being for its community and citizens. It can deliver a digital, modern citizen experience; make the community a better place to live, learn, and innovate; and attract talent and growth in population and businesses. 

Boost Economic Impact

Open data policies and tools can create a robust, digital environment to drive job creation and business growth. Open data puts the government in the position of a business-friendly and transparent partner managing a diverse and growing economy. Which can help attract an educated and well-paid workforce and thereby increase tax revenue.

Drive Operational Excellence

Open data can accelerate informed decision-making to maximize the impact of government’s limited resources. Having data enables governments to make informed and data-driven decisions and to measure the impact of programs and establish and measure operations against Key Performance Indicators. Internal access to data can enable more effective allocation of resources and collaboration between departments.

The following examples show how governments of all sizes can transform themselves through open data:

Transparency and Trust

Since the recession, points out Becky Roundtree, the Administrative Services Director for Gainesville, Florida, “the trust in government has declined. Putting the raw data out there shows our constituents that we have nothing to hide.”

Exposing expenditures is an effective way to combat Americans’ belief that 51 cents of every tax dollar is wasted, and gain back citizens’ trust.

Time and Money

For the Bureau of Alcohol and Tobacco, launching an API guaranteed that information on the news and in reports would be accurate — and also sharply reduced the agency’s FOIA backlog. This process also saved printing costs and staff time to process and fulfill FOIA requests.

In Alameda County, California, the savings from their open data portal is easy to calculate. A hackathon led to the idea for an automated invoicing program, which saved the County more than $500,000 annually, while also reducing time spent on scanning and storage.

Internal Collaboration

Freeing data from PDFs and posting it online is just as beneficial for government employees as for residents. In West Sussex, UK, Samantha Mowbray, the council’s head of policy and communications, comments that the portal helped the council have “far more sophisticated discussions” about priorities and goals.

Kate Bender, a Senior Analyst with the Kansas City Office of Performance Management, found regular access to open data was transformative for Kansas City’s employees, who were early and enthusiastic consumers.