Most everyone thinks so, and opening up – letting you participate in improving how your government works and sharing its information with you – can make your government more efficient while also helping companies to better understand their markets or expand their businesses and may even create entire industries that are based on government data.
While improved use of technology is part of what can make your government more efficient, that’s not really the interesting part. You see, one of the biggest inefficiencies in government is lack of collaboration between government offices. It’s so bad that there is a commonly used term for it: siloing. This means that the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing because they don’t share information or work well together. This clogs up the government system, slowing it down because of excessive paperwork, lack of understanding between offices, and duplication of efforts. This may be as simple as recording the same information in different formats, but it may also mean that different offices are each spending millions of dollars on doing the same research — that of course, they don’t share with each other!
Open government changes this. By giving you access to your government’s information, the other parts of government also gain access to it. Beyond this, the culture of open can lead to offices sharing information directly – even information that they can’t share with you! This helps to reduce the amount of paperwork, improve the understanding between offices about what they do and what they need to work efficiently, and reduce duplication of effort. This is all in addition to the waste that is reduced when your government cleans up its act in order to make the information available to you in the first place, and in response to the oversight that this transparency of process and information brings. But that’s not all! By opening up to let you participate in improving the way they work, the government not only can become more efficient, but can also be better focused on providing the services that are important to you in the best way possible.
Finally, layered on top of these efficiencies, a government can also become more effective by analyzing the data that becomes available to it. New York City has done some really impressive work in this area, using the data to identify illegal apartments, buildings that are likely to result in injury to firefighters, and stores that are selling bootleg cigarettes — and all of this from the comfort of their offices (more details here).
The other thing we all think government could be doing better is drive economic development. It’s been said that open data can provide “rocket fuel” for private sector innovation. This begins with data analysis by companies that is similar to what we discussed government doing, but naturally focused on how to make more business. This can include identifying new markets in under-served areas or new products that the public is hungry for. These new businesses could even help reduce violations of government regulations as they create new jobs and generate income. For instance, the government doesn’t want truckers running around with broken windshields so they issue fines. A company could analyse the data about those fines in order to determine which companies to target for advertising, a geographic area that may need more services, or something else that would help them build a business.
There are also significant business opportunities in making government information usable for you. A great example is GPS data. If you’re not familiar, GPS is a group of satellites owned by the US government. Instead of charging to use these, the government has made them freely available, and the navigation software that everyone uses to get around these days is built on top of this data. The US government estimates that this industry adds over $90 billion to the US economy each year. While this may be an extreme example (and the data was first released in the 80s, so it’s had time to build), it nonetheless shows the potential value locked in government data.
Here’s a nice report focused on the US Federal government, but applicable elsewhere that talks about how government can benefit from transparency: http://open4m.org/2011/10/03/owning-transparency/.
A good example of the impact of government data is weather data.