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Executive Summary

There is growing interest at all levels of government to increase access to and use of government data in support of good governance. As a result, public agencies are under pressure to create new capabilities to achieve this goal. A common assumption when opening government data is that simply supplying more data freely and in more formats will lead to more use. That use will lead to value creation and, in turn, will motivate government to make the necessary changes to continue opening more data. But, we know from experience, that supplying more and more data does not necessarily produce the results we anticipated.
There is growing interest at all levels of government to increase access to and use of government data in support of good governance. As a result, public agencies are under pressure to create new capabilities to achieve this goal. A common assumption when opening government data is that simply supplying more data freely and in more formats will lead to more use. That use will lead to value creation and, in turn, will motivate government to make the necessary changes to continue opening more data. But, we know from experience, that supplying more and more data does not necessarily produce the results we anticipated.
Workshop photo
Government, academic, and industry experts participated in CTG’s June 26-27, 2012 Open Government Consultative Workshop. Their valuable insights and suggestions on a preliminary draft of this paper were incorporated into the final version.


This paper presents an approach to analyze and model open data initiatives based on two key ideas: context and dynamics. First, the approach acknowledges the significance of context, particularly in terms of the actors and their interests in the governance of government data and access to it. These aspects of opening government data are largely de-contextualized in common practice, often addressing in a limited sense the many ways context affects how information is acquired, understood, and used to impact government and public life. Second, we highlight the dynamic aspects of open data initiatives that impact value creation, in terms of making data available, making it fit for reuse, contextualizing information, and working with new stakeholders. These dynamics represent changes over time from new technologies, interests, issues, and patterns of interaction resulting in new practices, governance arrangements, policies, and ways to express the value generated.

Our approach uses the concept of an information polity as a more holistic way to understand context. Open data initiatives are a disturbance to existing practices, in that they alter some combination of technical, political, and social factors that influence governance. The paper begins by presenting a simple picture of the data sources and flows, actors and roles, and governance relationships involved in open data initiatives. It is a high-level description of possible components of an information polity. It provides a way to identify the particular stakeholders and patterns of interaction that can infl uence or control the generation flows, and uses of data and the governance relationships and interests in a particular initiative.

We then examine two open data cases. The first examines public access to restaurant health inspection data in New York City, USA and changes over several years. It deals primarily with the changes in information flows, governance relationships, and stakeholders as a result of technological disturbances. The second case, from the City of Edmonton, Canada, examines in some detail the early life of an open data initiative to increase public access to street construction projects data. The case focuses more on the capabilities of the agency, as well as the data management practices, business value, the selection process, and relationship with an external application developer.

In both cases the activities that make up much of the case story involve one or more actors scanning the environment and connecting the opportunities they see to capabilities they can mobilize to exploit the opportunity. Their initiatives forged more useful connections between providers of a data source and the public, increasing the potential for the data to be more useful both to primary users and other stakeholders.

The findings from these cases, combined with insights from reviewing other open data initiatives, highlight the importance of dynamics. The paper presents a system dynamics model to show how various opportunities and constraints have an impact on open data initiatives over time. The modeling shows how the disruptions of changing stakeholders, technologies, and information fl ows can impact the system as a whole and affect value creation. The cases describe how access and use are constrained by agency and user capabilities, data management practices, effort, politics, poor data quality, and relationships between government agencies, citizens, and other stakeholders. Over time, these constraints are activated and will accelerate, slow, or reduce the supply of data and use.

Together, this holistic approach enhances our understanding of how open data initiatives can play out in and affect rapidly changing contexts. In addition, the concepts and analytical tools can be used to:
  • Identify and understand stakeholders and how their interests are impacted by opening government data.
  • Help planners and decision makers anticipate stakeholder changes so that government can build capability to deal with the power, expectation, and performance changes.
  • Aid planners in developing hypotheses for how interactions, relationships among stakeholders, and value will likely change over time.
Based on our analysis of the two cases we present a set of considerations for agencies:
  • Release government data that are relevant to both agency performance and the public interest
  • Invest in strategies to estimate how different stakeholders will use the data.
  • Devise data management practices that improve context in order to future-proof data resources.
  • Think about sustainability.

Workshop photo
Ashley Casovan, Strategic Coordinator for the Office of the CIO, City of Edmonton, giving input on the draft white paper. Seated to her right are Meghan Cook, program manager, CTG and Anthony Cresswell, senior fellow, CTG.
The next steps for this research is to create a functioning simulation model of an open data initiative. Simulated results can point to whether and where public value is being realized and identify the technical, policy, or management barriers to achieving enhanced value. The knowledge and insights acquired by these kinds of analyses can help governments better evaluate the costs, risks, and benefits of their open data initiatives.