Beyond business — the impacts of open data


The Local team speaks regularly with people from all across the country about the benefits of open data. Though these in-person conversations are full of the kinds of tools, reportage and innovations that exemplify the benefits of open data to us, we realized that having our favorite examples written down would let us share them more easily. Our new “Impacts of Open Data” document is intended to provide a concrete overview of the kinds of benefits localities might enjoy from opening their data for public use.

Open Leatherman multitool
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

When we’re talking with localities that are just beginning to learn about it, we find that it’s helpful to describe the benefits of opening government data in terms of broad categories. Recently, we’ve seen a number of great presentations on how open data can spur economic activity, and lists presenting the economic value of open data — like GovLab’s Open Data 500, Socrata’s Userbase and McKinsey & Company’s Open Data report — provide useful demonstrations of the ways that open data can produce economic benefits.

As an organization focused on opening government, we emphasize other facets of the open data story. The Sunlight Foundation is particularly interested in the way that open data helps to increase transparency, allowing people a closer view of the decisions and processes that elected officials undertake on behalf of the public. We’re also interested in the accountability that can be enabled by open data. Democratic governance improves when people have data that helps them see how officials are doing relative to past or promised performance.

While transparency and accountability are of special interest to us here at Sunlight, we generally also mention a few additional categories of benefit we’ve seen governments enjoy from opening their data. We’ve seen ways that open data can be used to identify new efficiencies within governments — a variety of benefit likely to be of interest to any official watching their government’s bottom line. We’ve seen open data employed as a way to evaluate and improve local service quality. Finally, we’ve seen open data used to enhance two-way communication between the public and their governments and to thereby increase public participation.

What are the effects of open data? Take a look at our new collection of examples and see for yourself.

The Impacts of Open Data by Sunlight Foundation