3 open-data challenges and how to overcome them

12 March 2014 | Parul Bhandari, Government Lead, Open Data and Big Data

Open data’s economic value is an astounding $3 to 5 trillion annually, according to a McKinsey and Company report. If this potential value is released, the world’s citizens have the most to gain through higher-quality, more affordable consumer products and services. But this potential can’t be realized without governments, which must lead the way in developing a dynamic open-data market. The good news is, many governments are on board already—to date, local, regional, and national governments in more than 40 countries have built open-data portals. But challenges remain. Here are three of the most common ones, along with how to handle them.

Getting citizens to engage

Publishing government data is one thing; getting citizens to use it is another. To encourage engagement from individual citizens, private companies, and other organizations, make sure your portal is:

  • Populated with machine-readable data sets that are useful, not just easy to release. These might include street map, facility, population, economic, business, and election data.
  • Designed with the citizen’s experience in mind like Lombardia, Italy‘s dati.lombardia.it site. Tools like maps, mash-ups, and visualizations can make data easier to understand.
  • Publicized so there is more awareness among citizens.  
  • Improved constantly based on feedback from the data’s users. 

For detailed guidelines, both the World Bank’s Open Data Toolkit and the United Nations’ Open Government Data for Citizen Engagement are worth checking out for technologists and policy makers.   

Making open data meaningful   

One way to make data more meaningful is through apps and providing great visualizations leveraging Microsoft’s Power BI for Office 365 tool. In greater Manchester, England, the government transportation department opened up its data and, in one weekend, more than 100 local developers generated a variety of new travel apps to make getting around the region easier for visitors and residents. Manchester attracted these app developers by hosting a 48-hour hackathon—similar to the ones held in 190 countries around the world on Open Data Day and Canada’s nationwide CODE (Canadian Open Data Experience) event—all last month. You also can hold competitions with prizes for the best apps, join in community initiatives like Microsoft’s Make Web Not War, or build relationships by attending developer meet-up groups. For more ideas, check out the Field Guide created by Microsoft’s partner, Socrata.

Justifying the cost of open-data initiatives

Open data isn’t just about publishing government data for citizen use. It’s also about creating value for governments. Gartner analysts Andrea Di Maio and Rick Howard recommend that leaders open up data that improves internal decision-making and develop internal applications, such as mobile apps for employees, that increase productivity. Government efficiency also will improve through cross-agency data sharing, both between internal agencies and with other organizations. These broader ways of thinking about open data will help governments stay in the open-data game for the long term.

One by one, the world’s nations are overcoming challenges like these. Since 2011, the number of countries participating in the Open Government Partnership has grown from 8 to 63. Each of them is committed to making their government more open, accountable, and responsive to citizens. And international organizations like The World Bank are making big investments to help open data’s benefits spread all over the world. Wherever you are, I urge you to forge ahead in your efforts to open up your data. You’ll forward societal ideals like transparency and accountability—and reap significant economic gains.

Have a comment or opinion on this post? Let me know @Microsoft_Gov. Or e-mail us at ongovernment@microsoft.com.

Parul Bhandari
Government Lead, Open Data and Big Data

About the Author

Parul Bhandari | Government Lead, Open Data and Big Data

Parul Bhandari works closely with governments worldwide to develop IT strategies that promote greater insights and accountability, as well as to support forming more transparent and open government.