Why Do We Need an Open Government Data Benchmark Study?

We believe this broad market study to benchmark the state of Open Data in government will be the very first time that government stakeholders, mainstream citizens and civic application developers are all invited to share their perspectives on this nascent movement.

Why are we launching this study? To begin with, it’s important to find out how far we’ve come in this evolution towards government data transparency and civically-engaged citizens. For example, how aware is the public about Open Data initiatives? How do they feel about it? To be more precise, the responses to the survey will allows us to answer questions such as: What percentage of people believe Open Data is important enough to fund with taxpayer dollars? Would the public be more likely to support elected officials who champion data transparency? How would people expect to consume and interact with public data? For that matter, what would be examples of high-value datasets in their view?

For data publishers within government, we’re also eager to uncover what the motivators are for doing this. Is it because it’s fashionable? Perhaps it is a result of a mandate by elected officials. Or is it something more enduring and more fundamental than that? Is it simply the right thing to do in a 21st century democracy? If so, what are the real-world constraints that are hindering progress? Lack of funding? Political will? Data governance issues?

For Socrata, this study is important in many ways. We believe in the Open Data movement and have built our company to help enable it. Although we operate a public service for individuals and small organizations to find and share data on Socrata.com, we are also a for-profit technology startup which has its own business sustainability motive in seeing this movement grow and prosper. We believe that we need to help drive adoption among all its key constituents: governments, citizens and developers. We’re also thinking about the role of media, researchers, analysts and all other data-consuming groups. Since technology adoption is a function of usefulness and usability, we’re constantly looking for ways to improve the Socrata Open Data PlatformTM along those two dimensions. And since we can’t solve every Open Data problem ourselves, we’re trying to make it easy for developers to extend the Socrata Open Data PlatformTM to create new data assets and civic applications for the benefit of governments and citizens. This study will help us gain additional insight into how publishers, developers and consumers expect to interact with data.

Finally, in our announcement on July 14th, we wanted to recognize that in addition to political courage, this movement owes much of its current momentum to passionate advocates like the Sunlight Foundation which have worked to influence transparency policy for many years. We also feel indebted to technology visionaries like Tim O’Reilly who have made the case for technology’s transformative power in Open Government and have helped usher in new technology thought leadership in government.

Since our announcement we have been fortunate to receive the support and participation of like-minded, passionate advocates, thought leaders and interested media organizations as well as Socrata customers. We are honored to be joined in this effort by the Sunlight Foundation, the Personal Democracy ForumGovLoopCode for America and David Eaves.

We’ve come a long way thanks to the effort of so many people. We’re at the cusp of something great and transformative for our democracy.