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Define Clear and Measurable Goals

In “Why Open Data, Why Now?” we presented a framework for aligning your open data strategy with the big picture opportunity for government: to improve performance, meet citizen expectations, and drive innovation.

In our experience, the most successful open data initiatives identify their open data goals from the outset based on their priorities as an organization.

Why make decisions with data? Read “Gut Decisions are Expensive and Dangerous” by Beth Blauer to find out.

“The vision is to transform how citizens and government interface. Make it easier for citizens to get what they need.”

Kristen Russell, Secretary of Technology and Chief Information Officer, State of Colorado.

In this section, we present specific outcomes that you can use to define your own strategic and tactical goals for your open data initiative. While the table below is not exhaustive, it covers many elements of a successful open data strategy. Use it to develop your own, based on the specific context of your city, county, state, or federal agency.

Learn your open data dos and don’ts. Read the Golden Rules of Open Data.

Guidelines for Goal Setting

Align Your Goals with Your Mission

Your organization is accountable for a number of outcomes, whether they are part of the normal course of running a government agency or they are part of your chief executive’s agenda. Think of your open data program as another tool to support your mission.

Here are some recommendations:

  • Review your own organization’s strategic plan, such as a Governor’s Action Plan. Then, identify the information flows that you could streamline and that would have the biggest impact on mission attainment. See “Bus Ridership” example below.
  • Inventory the data requirements that support some or all these goals.
  • Adapt the user experience to fit each stakeholder group, be they citizens, businesses, partners, employees, or your own leadership.

Practical Example – How Does Open Data Support the Goal of Increasing Bus Ridership?

Open Data Goal Stakeholders Basic Data Requirements Usability and Experience Requirements
Increase Bus Ridership
  • Residents
  • Businesses
  • Transit authority
  • Neighboring cities
  • Planning department
  • Bus schedules
  • Location of bus stops
  • Real-time bus arrival information
  • Ridership stats, trends, and goals
  • Impact on environment
  • Economic impact
  • Budget impact
  • Raw data in open formats, and domain-specific open standards like GTFS
  • Open APIs for app developers
  • Ridership stats dashboard with easy visualizations
  • Interactive, searchable maps (not PDFs!) on .gov site showing routes, stops, etc.
  • Basic SMS gateway to receive alerts and arrival times
  • An online forum for citizen feedback
  • A mobile app

Adapt Open Data Goals to Your Local Context

Your local needs should inform goal setting for your open data initiative.

Maybe you live in a region that gets a lot of snow and your residents need access to information that helps them cope on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps, your state is prone to hurricanes and you need to make sure that emergency readiness and response data is accessible to everyone in a timely and usable fashion.

See great examples of local apps like Chicago’s “Winter Apps” and Boston’s “Adopt a Fire Hydrant.”


Download Open Data Field Kit
Make goal setting simpler. View a sample open data strategic charter.

Open Data Goal Stakeholders Basic Data Requirements Usability and Experience Requirements
Support Community Preparedness During Snow Storms
  • Residents
  • Businesses
  • Road closures and snow routes
  • Parking restrictions
  • Sand and salt locations
  • Locations of snow plows
  • Locations of fire hydrants that need to be cleared
  • Raw data in open formats
  • Downloadable Shapefile and KML files for  location data
  • Interactive maps for residents
  • Near real-time updates on road conditions and snow plow locations
  • A “Winter app” that brings these resources together for citizens
  • A community engagement app like Boston’s “Adopt a Fire Hydrant” app

Common Goals for Open Data Initiatives

One of the primary reasons for starting an open data initiative is to deliver on the promise of transparency. Given how citizens demand it, and the momentum generated by the early open data adopters, providing transparency is no longer up for debate. So, you might as well get in front of it and earn the trust of your constituents now.

Follow these recommendations:

  1. Your goal should be to achieve a “10 out of 10” on transparency, according to grades given by watchdog organizations like U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) and Sunshine Review.
  2. At a minimum, use your open data program to provide the raw data on financial information like budgets, taxes, contracts, and expenditures, as well as “ethics information” like lobbying, conflict of interest disclosures, and campaign contributions. (See Chapter 4 The Data Plan for more on data transparency.)
  3. Make sure that your data is presented in a way that helps people understand facts and want to share them. Pie charts and bar graphs can help. You might try, for instance, an open checkbook application that makes expenditure data easy to access and understand.

The Socrata “Open Checkbook Application” provides an easy way to present transaction-level financial transparency. 

Congratulations to Socrata customers in Chicago, New York City, San Francisco and Baltimore for placing as the top four cities on the U.S. PIRG “Transparency in City Spending” rating.

Download Open Data Field Kit
Get help creating your own open data success goals

Check out The Sunshine Review’s Transparency Checklist and Sunlight Foundation’s many resources.

More examples of goals for open data initiatives

To improve performance of citizen services, publish all your service performance metrics online, grouped by category and updated at least monthly. Improvements can include resolution rates for 311 requests and average days to issue a license.

Strategic Imperative Objective Goal(s) Examples and Success Measures
Meet the needs of a 21st century constituency Increase transparency and accountability without increasing costs Make all your financial data, like budgets, taxes, and expenditures, available online in a usable way. Grades by watchdog organizations like U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG)
and Sunshine Review
    Make all ethics data, like lobbying, conflict of interest disclosure, and campaign contributions, available online in a usable way. Same as above.
    Shift to the proactive disclosure of frequently requested public information of any kind, with the goal to reduce staff time and costs by 10 to 20 percent in the first year. Percentage of all public information requests deflected to self-service channels and money saved.

Example: State of Oregon Business listings embed on their site

  Improve quality of life for constituents Launch five new quality of life apps (web/mobile) for citizens in the first year, on web and mobile.

Usage of the apps and citizen satisfaction surveys.

Examples: Check out Somerville’s 311 Explorer

  Bring the citizen experience to the modern era Replace clunky, confusing interfaces and inaccessible file formats like KML and Shapefiles with maps, charts, other visual content, and apps that are mobile-friendly.
Web usability surveys and increased usage.


Examples: Health System Measurement ProjectKing County Elections – Mobile Open Data

Improve government performance
Promote internal collaboration Convene agencies to pool their data to create information resources that support common goals in health, education, and social services, such as reduced childhood obesity and improved early childhood education. Optimize for mobile where it makes sense. Number of data silos eliminated,
number of new online information resources made available to citizens and days saved.
  Improve agency performance and productivity Empower program managers, public information officers, and e-government leaders to publish information resources that help them deliver better services. Money saved, time saved, and citizen satisfaction.

Example: State of Oregon Marine Board Case study

  Reduce costs and environmental impact Eliminate paper-based reports and replace them with interactive, online reports. Money saved and time saved.

Example: State of WA Salmon Report (Press Release)

Leverage your ecosystem for innovation Support entrepreneurship and innovation in your community Foster a sustainable app ecosystem and a vibrant developer community around your data. Number of apps created, number of apps reused, citizen adoption of these apps, number of businesses created, and economic activity generated.

Example: Making Dollars and Sense of the Open Data Economy

  Collaborate with other jurisdictions Create a converged data site with neighboring cities, counties or states. Federate your data to the national catalog, Citizen adoption and usage.


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