Open data study shows progress, but a long road ahead for open government

The good news: Open data is viewed positively. The bad: There's lots of room for improvement.

A new report on the attitudes, quality and use of open government data shows strong support for the release of open data among citizens and government employees. While the success of New York State Governor-Elect Cuomo or Rhode Island Governor-Elect Lincoln Chafee in the 2010 election didn’t provide sufficient data points in of themselves, this report showed that, by a 3 to 1 margin, the citizens surveyed are more likely to vote for politicians who champion open government. The full results of the open data benchmark study are available at

“The findings of this study support what Sunlight has been seeing from our open government stakeholders in the public sector, the tech community and citizen advocates,” said Ellen Miller, co-founder and executive director of the Sunlight Foundation in a prepared statement. “The current commitment among all of those working to advance open government shows that we are at a good starting point, but more hard work is still ahead of us in order to create the promise of a truly open government.”

Supporters of the Sunlight Foundation’s transparency work were no doubt pleased to hear that 67.9 percent of surveyed citizens and 92.6 percent of surveyed government employees indicated that if open government data is made public, it should be publicly available online.

“The transformative impact of Open Data will become self-perpetuating, but is not there yet,” said Kevin Merritt, founder and CEO of Socrata in a statement. “The flywheel effect requires two things: significantly more high-value data that is universally accessible; and more active engagement between governments, citizens and developers.”

Socrata, a three year-old Seattle-based startup that provides social data discovery services for opening government data, delivered the report in a partnership with the Sunlight Foundation, Personal Democracy Forum, GovLoop, Code for America and David Eaves. The report is based on data from three surveys conducted between August and October 2010.

The results of the open data benchmark survey were grim with respect to how developers rated the availability of government data. Safouen Raba, vice president of marketing at Socrata, said that of those surveyed, only 30 percent said that government data was available, and of that, 50 percent was unusable. “There’s a lot of munging necessary on data then side, along with screen scraping,” Raba said at the Open Government Data Summit at GOSCON earlier this year. Developers surveyed indicated issues with data timeliness, accuracy, usable formats, metadata schemas, consistency, and incomplete data sets.

While the government stakeholders surveyed indicated that 21.5 percent of government organizations are “actively engaging with developers to build applications, 40.9 percent stated they had no current plans to engage developers.”

Developers Rate the Current State of Gov Data Accessibility (Chart)

Powered by Socrata

The results of the study also suggest that there’s a long way to go for the release of open government data. Less than a quarter of government organizations surveyed reported the launch of an open data site. Large majorities of citizens surveyed said they’d never heard of open data initiatives.

Open data proponents within government face major obstacles in government, with some 27 percent of respondents citing lack of political will or leadership, along with lack of funding (19 percent) and privacy and security concerns (16.5 percent).

That said, 55.6 percent of government organizations surveyed reported that they have do a mandate to share public data with they public, with some 48.1 percent already publishing data in some form.

Another key takeaway: 63 percent of citizens surveyed indicated that they prefer to explore and interact with data online, as opposed to downloading data to examine in a spreadsheet. Given than downloadable files are currently the prevalent mode of publishing government data electronically, there are clear takeaways for policy makers.

When it comes to motivation for open government data initiatives, it’s not hard to see the effect of the Open Government Directive at the federal level. By way of contrast, the open data survey results also showed that motivators aren’t strongly reported at the state, municipal and county level.

Transparency Motivators – By Type of Government

Powered by Socrata

“The single best thing we could do in open government is to get the American people engaged in the question of what high value data is,” said Aneesh Chopra, the first United States chief technology officer, speaking at Politico’s “What’s Next in Tech” forum in Union Station this fall. Now there’s more insight on that question. The five most important data categories identified in the survey are public safety, revenue and expenditure, accountability (like campaign finance or voting records), education, and information about where and how government services can be accessed.

This survey provides valuable insight to anyone interested in the progress, attitudes and prospects for open government data. Best of all, it’s publicly available online, so share it, embed it, and build visualizations.

tags: , , ,