Open Data ROI – It’s Complicated

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I recently read a great article by Joshua New of the Center for Data Innovation calling on Congress to save open data initiatives past 2017. There has been a tremendous amount of effort led by the Obama Administration, GSA and other federal agencies in the last six years to make government data free and easy to access. There have been many articles written about the general benefits of having these programs and benchmarking the US versus other countries. I think we in the open data community are in the position during this Administration transition of demonstrating the positive return on investment (ROI) of open data efforts to decisionmakers in Congress and elsewhere.

Some have argued that the return on investment of open data is not the right question. But I believe having a conversation about and determining a positive ROI is essential to sustaining and improving open data initiatives in the federal, state and local government.

According to a December 2014 Pew Study of 3,212 adults, 23% of Americans say they trust the federal government to do the right thing at least most of the time. Of those 23%, 76% say government data can help officials be more accountable. For those of you doing the math, that’s a mere 17% of those surveyed that think open government data will improve accountability. Of course one study or potential benefit of open data does not paint a complete ROI picture.

By measuring economic impact, citizen satisfaction and engagement and customer service with tangible numbers, we can paint a more complete picture. And then, let’s get the word out on the open data ROI every chance we can get.

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