If You Build It, Will They Come? A Case for Demand-Driven Open Data

On March 6, 2018, The GovLab, Reboot and Reaktor held a panel event about understanding the demand for open data during NYC Open Data Week 2018 Photo credit: The GovLab

On March 6, 2018, The GovLab, Reboot and Reaktor held a panel event about understanding the demand for open data during NYC Open Data Week 2018
Photo credit: The GovLab

Anniversaries allow us to pause, reflect and consider plans for what can come next. The second annual NYC Open Data Week, taking place from March 3-10, 2018, provides a similar occasion for members of the burgeoning open data movement to take stock of the distance traveled and consider strategies for advancing to the next stage.

In celebration of NYC Open Data Week, The GovLab, Reboot and Reaktor organized a conversation on Tuesday, March 6, 2018 between experts and participants from government, nonprofit, business and academia to explore the demand side of open data. The “If You Build It, Will They Come? A Case for Demand-Driven Data” panel endeavored to move the open data discourse beyond the number and type of available datasets, to truly understanding the determinants of demand for open data, and how insights from the demand side can influence future supply.

Panelists included:

  • Andy Moss – Director, Blackstone Launchpad at NYU Entrepreneurial Institute at New York University & Entrepreneurs-in-Residence at NYU Entrepreneurship
  • Sarah Burd-Sharps – Co-Director, Measure of America, Social Science Research Council (SSRC)
  • Sophie Pauze – Manager, Programs and Policy at the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City
  • Sashi Marella – Director, Senior Data Scientist, Viacom
  • Stephen Larrick – Open Cities Director at Sunlight Foundation

The panel was organized in the context of a joint project between The GovLab, Reboot, the NYC Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics (MODA), and the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City that seeks to determine if and how the potential of open data can be further unlocked in New York City. The initiative is aimed at developing a methodology toward better understanding current open data use and unmet demand, as a means to spur greater uptake, use and experimentation with open data from a wider array of actors on the demand side.

The panel began with reflections about the value of open data for residents of New York City — from understanding restaurant and health information, to addressing persistent concerns around affordable housing, to unlocking information about transportation — through the lense of four key areas: (1) improving governance, (2) empowering individuals, (3) economic opportunity, and (4) public problem solving.

The focus subsequently turned toward how to become more demand driven and how to engage with the potential users more effectively. Some of the key messages and takeaways include: Andy Moss remarked on the importance of backwards mapping to consider what problems open data is meant to solve. Sarah Burd-Sharps surfaced the need to consider our divided political times and how open data helps to keep conversations fact-based. Sophie Pauze  stressed the importance of showing and not just telling people about the value and importance of open data. Sashi Marella discussed the critical need for “monetizeable” data as a way to help fulfill the promise of open data for the business community. And Stephen Larrick tasked suppliers of open data to always consider the “why” behind requests for open data.

The GovLab’s panel event was moderated by Zack Brisson, Co-Founder and Principal of Reboot, and Stefaan Verhulst, Co-Founder and Chief Research and Development Officer of The GovLab.

Stefaan Verhulst recapped the event with a call for participants and panelists alike to consider six Ps when making the case for demand-driven open data (subsequently several other panelists suggested additional Ps including Politics, Perseverance, Persistence; Participation; Personas; Presentation; Prompts and Prizes; and Power-sharing).

The Six Ps of Open Data Demand:

  • PROBLEM – Properly defining a problem should be the starting point of any data- driven approach to solving public problems. Asking the relevant questions up front, framing the necessary argument, can yield more relevant insights down the line.
  • PRIORITIZATION – Open data users are a not a monolith; it’s important to identify and  segment different markets for and subsequent users of open data.
  • PLANNING – Developing a business model for why and how to publish open data can provide more context and relevance, and make open data more actionable for users.
  • PROCESS – Consider the data value chain when examining demand for open data (collection, processing, sharing, analyzing and using). Actions taken along the continuum can influence the supply as well as the demand for open data.
  • PARTNERSHIP – Supply can influence the demand for open data, and the same can be true in reverse. To realize the promise of open data, it’s important for supply to reflect both potential and actual user demand.
  • PEOPLE – With suppliers of open data also operating as users of open data, (as is often the case with government agencies), understanding people’s demand for open data can help build and strengthen a data-driven culture, where access to data becomes the norm.

Taking time to celebrate NYC Open Data Week provides the open data community in New York City (and beyond) an opportunity to assess and recalibrate ways to advance the open data movement, in particular moving beyond the metrics of datasets to a closer examination and understanding of what drives demand for open data.

To learn more about The GovLab’s Open Data initiatives, visit odimpact.org.