What are the Benefits of Open Data?

Greg Wilson
Posted

Last week, the White House took landmark steps to liberate data by releasing an Open Data policy and Executive Order that calls for all newly-generated government data to be made “open and accessible by default.” The goal of the new Open Data policy is to make previously inaccessible government data available to entrepreneurs, researchers and the general public, to spur innovation and provide “fuel for the economy.”

Engaging users in the public sector using open source, open data and transparency is part & parcel with Phase2's core mission. So, we’re ecstatic that this Executive Order is out.

Fortunately, a lot of the datasets that have been released under current Open Data initiatives are very useful for the citizenry who pay for them. Below is a short list of some of those data sets and examples of how they are put to use to benefit local government, businesses and the general public.

Health

On May 8, 2013, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced a three-part initiative aimed at giving consumers information on what hospitals charge. Within 24 hours post launch, the hospital charge data was downloaded over 100,000 times and revealed a staggering differences in health care costs throughout the country. And as PBS reported:

“in many cases, hospitals -- sometimes in the same city -- price treatments up to twice as much as they would in another location.” 

Energy

The Energy Information Administration released a U.S. electricity API to help developers understand how people and business consume power. Opower, is just one company using this information to provide millions of people across the US with an analysis of their energy use, while also providing recommendations for how to use less. To date, they save “the equivalent of 30% of the energy produced by the entire US solar industry each year.”

Local Governments

Local governments are taking the plunge into open data as well, and the results are outstanding. For example the city of San Francisco announced that the city's restaurant hygiene scores would be made public on Yelp. Just one example that shows how state and local governments are stepping towards the open data movement, and as San Francisco's Mayor Lee put it “By making often hard-to-find government information more widely available, we can make government more transparent and improve public health outcomes with the power of technology.” Similarly, Maryland launched the StateStat site (modeled after Baltimore’s CitiStat site) which is a performance measurement and management tool aimed at improving visibility and accountability around the state’s service to citizens.

This list goes on and on...What Open Data examples have you seen work or not work for that matter? And what do you think has contributed to their success or failure?

Greg Wilson