Preventing the Open Data Disconnect

“Build it and they will come” may work for baseball fields in Iowa but it may not cut it for urban open data initiatives.

Open city data has become the minimum price of entry into the smart cities race but the question constantly arises about the utility of the data deliverables in the eyes of the taxpayer.

To many urban leaders the mere fact that city insights are more accessible is considered revolutionary. But to the high-expectation 21st century data consumer, much of what they see you hyping is the equivalent of dial tone. In essence you may be crowing about being at e-Gov 1.0 when a growing number of citizens have expectations of Data-Gov 2.0.

Many of these sentiments were reflected in the recent Pew Study on Americans’ Views on Open Government Data.

For those who are intensely interested in the culture and market segmentation of urban open data, the report gives some great insights into the mind of the target audience.

Pew identifies four major open data mentalities:

Ardent Optimists – The 17% who have truly signed on to government data initiatives

Committed Cynics – The 20% who are steady users of online government resources, but are skeptical that they will have any payoff to government performance

Buoyant Bystanders – The 27% who like the idea that data can improve how government performs, but are not likely to use the tools that the data enables to connect with government

Dormant Doubters – The 36% of the general population who do not often use the Internet to transact or find out about government and they also do not think government data initiatives are apt to improve government services or make it more accountable

While there are clearly budget implications, city government must make some serious decisions on where they will focus their efforts. Will it be on those 37% most likely to engage with open data, or is there some level of data that even the “bystanders” and “doubters” could be enticed to engage with, perhaps in a non-traditional delivery method?

Regardless of the four levels of engagement spelled out by Pew, the key is in identifying what data will drive interaction. Otherwise the open data strategy is no more than a hoarding and warehousing exercise.

So what do the experts tell us about high-impact open government data?

Perhaps the most experienced is Mark Headd, former chief data officer for the City of Philadelphia who espouses the “3 B’s of Open Data” that are critical starting points for broader data feeds and aggregation.

These data basics would represent:

Bullets = Crime and enforcement data

Buses = Transportation

Budgets = City Expenditures

Some other pundits have proposed “Bills” as a fourth “B,” given the growing desire to pay for city services of traffic violations online. But again despite that being considered “dial tone” in a world of ecommerce, the technical, security and budgetary implications can be daunting for many cities.

So what is your city doing to serve both ends of the data consumption spectrum?

Are there programs that attempt to lure Buoyant Bystanders and Dormant Doubters to engage with Open Data?

Have you been able to go beyond what many millennials would consider data dial tone and provide a more compelling data deliverable that meet the expectations of the Apps generation?

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