Open Data Is Changing the World in Four Ways…

New repository of case studies documents the impact of open data globally


Despite global commitments to and increasing enthusiasm for open data, little is actually known about its use and impact. What kinds of social and economic transformation has open data brought about, and what is its future potential? How—and under what circumstances—has it been most effective? How have open data practitioners mitigated risks and maximized social good?

Even as proponents of open data extol its virtues, the field continues to suffer from a paucity of empirical evidence. This limits our understanding of open data and its impact.

Over the last few months, The GovLab (@thegovlab), in collaboration with Omidyar Network (@OmidyarNetwork), has worked to address these shortcomings by developing 19 detailed open data case studies from around the world. The case studies have been selected for their sectoral and geographic representativeness. They are built in part from secondary sources (“desk research”), and also from more than 60 first-hand interviews with important players and key stakeholders. In a related collaboration with Omidyar Network, Becky Hogge(@barefoot_techie), an independent researcher, has developed an additional six open data case studies, all focused on the United Kingdom.  Together, these case studies, seek to provide a more nuanced understanding of the various processes and factors underlying the demand, supply, release, use and impact of open data.

Today, after receiving and integrating comments from dozens of peer reviewers through a unique open process, we are delighted to share an initial batch of 10 case studies, as well three of Hogge’s UK-based stories. These are being made available at a new custom-built repository, Open Data’s Impact (, that will eventually house all the case studies, key findings across the studies, and additional resources related to the impact of open data. All this information will be stored in machine-readable HTML and PDF format, and will be searchable by area of impact, sector and region.

Taxonomy of impact

In researching the impact of open data, we have identified four main ways in which it is transforming economic, social, cultural and political life around the world.

  • First, open data is improving government, primarily by helping tackle corruption, increasing transparency, and enhancing public services and resource allocation.
  • Open data is also empowering citizens to take control of their lives and demand change; this dimension of impact is primarily mediated by more informed decision making and new forms of social mobilization, both in turn facilitated by new ways of communicating and accessing information.
  • Open data is also creating new opportunities for citizens and organizations, by fostering innovation and promoting economic growth and job creation.
  • Finally, open data is playing an increasingly important role in solving big public problems, primarily by allowing citizens and policymakers access to new forms of data-driven assessment of the problems at hand. It also enables data-driven engagement producing more targeted interventions and enhanced collaboration.

Focus on Improving Government and Empowering Citizens

The batch we release today is focused on two main areas of impact: improving governance and empowering citizens. Among other demonstrable impacts, these case studies show how open data is leading to:

  • the exposure and a reduction of corruption in Mexican schools and among public officials in Brazil and parliamentarians the United Kingdom;
  • the discovery of tax fraud among charities in Canada and savings in how development aid is spent in Sweden;
  • enhanced transparency on who owns what corporate entity in Britain and other countries;
  • procurement improvements in Slovakia;
  • more informed decision-making regarding health care by citizens in Uruguay;
  • improved public services in Denmark as a result of greater accuracy in address data, and following open review and debate in Great Britain;
  • crowdsourced confirmation of election results in Indonesia, leading to greater faith and confidence in the political system;
  • potential for improved transparency and accountability among public- and private-sector entities in Kenya.

A more complete description of each of these projects is available at Open Data’s Impact. In examining these projects—as well as those projects which we plan to include in subsequent releases—we were struck by the sheer breadth and variety of impact. Across sectors, in so many different ways, open data is changing and in many cases enhancing public services and improving lives. In some cases, however, open data’s impact was less pronounced or even harmful. Needless to say, many of these projects are still in their infancy, and in some cases, they remain indications of potential and promise rather than actual achievement. But initial indications are clearly positive. The evidence gathered for our case studies goes some way to suggesting that the hopes and optimism surrounding open data are not misplaced.

What’s Next

  • In February we will release 12 additional case studies on projects related to solving public problems and creating economic opportunity .
  • In March we will release a Key Findings paper describing the lessons learned across all the cases. This paper will also include a set of recommendations for policymakers, decision makers and other considering how to achieve maximum—and positive—impact from open data projects.

You can stay up-to-date by following us on twitter: @TheGovLab where we will be using the hashtag #odimpact.

Contact: Stefaan G. Verhulst, Chief of Research, The GovLab ([email protected])


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