The Open Data 500: Putting Research Into Action

On April 8, the GovLab made two significant announcements. At an open data event in Washington, DC, I was pleased to announce the official launch of the Open Data 500, our study of 500 companies that use open government data as a key business resource. We also announced that the GovLab is now planning a series of Open Data Roundtables to bring together government agencies with the businesses that use their data – and that five federal agencies have agreed to participate. Video of the event, which was hosted by the Center for Data Innovation, is available here.

The Open Data 500, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, is the first comprehensive study of U.S.-based companies that rely on open government data.  Our website at includes searchable, sortable information on 500 of these companies.  Our data about them comes from responses to a survey we’ve sent to all the companies (190 have responded) and what we’ve been able to learn from research using public information.  Anyone can now explore this website, read about specific companies or groups of companies, or download our data to analyze it. The website features an interactive tool on the home page, the Open Data Compass, that shows the connections between government agencies and different categories of companies visually.

We began work on the Open Data 500 study last fall with three goals. First, we wanted to collect information that will ultimately help calculate the economic value of open data – an important question for policymakers and others. Second, we wanted to present examples of open data companies to inspire others to use this important government resource in new ways. And third – and perhaps most important – we’ve hoped that our work will be a first step in creating a dialogue between the government agencies that provide open data and the companies that use it.

That dialogue is critically important to make government open data more accessible and useful. While open government data is a huge potential resource, and federal agencies are working to make it more available, it’s too often trapped in legacy systems that make the data difficult to find and to use. To solve this problem, we plan to connect agencies to their clients in the business community and help them work together to find and liberate the most valuable datasets.

We now plan to convene and facilitate a series of Open Data Roundtables – a new approach to bringing businesses and government agencies together. In these Roundtables, which will be informed by the Open Data 500 study, companies and the agencies that provide their data will come together in structured, results-oriented meetings that we will facilitate. We hope to help figure out what can be done to make the most valuable datasets more available and usable quickly.

We’ve been gratified by the immediate positive response to our plan from several federal agencies. The Department of Commerce has committed to help plan and participate in the first of our Roundtables, now being scheduled for May. By the time we announced our launch on April 8, the Departments of Labor, Transportation, and Treasury had also signed up. And at the end of the launch event, the Deputy Chief Information Officer of the USDA publicly committed her agency to participate as well.

Mark Doms, Under Secretary of Commerce, led off our launch event and expressed his Department’s commitment to this process.  “The Department of Commerce is very excited by the Open Data 500 study and we see it as confirmation of something we have believed all along: that improving our ability to package and disseminate our enormous data assets can enable America’s businesses to be more innovative, our governments smarter, and our citizens more informed,” he said in a statement.  “We are thrilled to be working with the GovLab on the upcoming Roundtables and to learn firsthand what we can do to make our data more valuable and accessible.”

This week has brought a lot of positive attention for our work, which you can read here, and companies have contacted us to ask how they can participate. The Open Data 500 is a living resource; the GovLab will update, extend, and deepen its findings continually, and will build the list to include more companies as needed. Businesses that wish to be included in the study can fill out the information found  on here We look forward to working with companies and government agencies alike to continue to make open government data a more powerful resource for business and society.

–          Joel Gurin, senior advisor, the GovLab, and project director, the Open Data 500

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