From Faith-Based to Evidence-Based: The Open Data 500 and Understanding How Open Data Helps the American Economy

Beth Noveck in Forbes: “Public funds have, after all, paid for their collection, and the law says that federal government data are not protected by copyright. By the end of 2009, the US and the UK had the only two open data one-stop websites where agencies could post and citizens could find open data. Now there are over 300 such portals for government data around the world with over 1 million available datasets. This kind of Open Data — including weather, safety and public health information as well as information about government spending — can serve the country by increasing government efficiency, shedding light on regulated industries, and driving innovation and job creation.

It’s becoming clear that open data has the potential to improve people’s lives. With huge advances in data science, we can take this data and turn it into tools that help people choose a safer hospital, pick a better place to live, improve the performance of their farm or business by having better climate models, and know more about the companies with whom they are doing business. Done right, people can even contribute data back, giving everyone a better understanding, for example of nuclear contamination in post-Fukushima Japan or incidences of price gouging in America’s inner cities.

The promise of open data is limitless. (see the GovLab index for stats on open data) But it’s important to back up our faith with real evidence of what works. Last September the GovLab began the Open Data 500 project, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, to study the economic value of government Open Data extensively and rigorously.  A recent McKinsey study pegged the annual global value of Open Data (including free data from sources other than government), at $3 trillion a year or more. We’re digging in and talking to those companies that use Open Data as a key part of their business model. We want to understand whether and how open data is contributing to the creation of new jobs, the development of scientific and other innovations, and adding to the economy. We also want to know what government can do better to help industries that want high quality, reliable, up-to-date information that government can supply. Of those 1 million datasets, for example, 96% are not updated on a regular basis.

The GovLab just published an initial working list of 500 American companies that we believe to be using open government data extensively.  We’ve also posted in-depth profiles of 50 of them — a sample of the kind of information that will be available when the first annual Open Data 500 study is published in early 2014. We are also starting a similar study for the UK and Europe.

Even at this early stage, we are learning that Open Data is a valuable resource. As my colleague Joel Gurin, author of Open Data Now: the Secret to Hot Start-Ups, Smart Investing, Savvy Marketing and Fast Innovation, who directs the project, put it, “Open Data is a versatile and powerful economic driver in the U.S. for new and existing businesses around the country, in a variety of ways, and across many sectors. The diversity of these companies in the kinds of data they use, the way they use it, their locations, and their business models is one of the most striking things about our findings so far.” Companies are paradoxically building value-added businesses on top of public data that anyone can access for free….”

FULL article can be found here.

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