Reflecting on the Success of Open Data: How Municipal Government Evaluates their Open Data Programs

Reflecting on the Success of Open Data: How Municipal Government Evaluates their Open Data Programs

Peter A. Johnson (University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Canada)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 12
DOI: 10.4018/IJEPR.2016070101
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Despite the high level of interest in open data, little research has evaluated how municipal government evaluates the success of their open data programs. This research presents results from interviews with eight Canadian municipal governments that point to two approaches to evaluation: internal and external. Internal evaluation looks for use within the data generating government, and for support from management and council. External evaluation tracks use by external entities, including citizens, private sector, or other government agencies. Three findings of this work provide guidance for the development of open data evaluation metrics. First, approaches to tracking can be both passive, via web metrics, and active, via outreach activities to users. Second, value of open data must be broadly defined, and extend beyond economic valuations. Lastly, internal support from management or council and the contributions of many organization employees towards the production of open data are important forms of self-evaluation of open data programs.
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1. Introduction

As part of open government and transparency movements, there has been a dramatic shift towards opening and distributing raw datasets for public and private sector use (Bartenberger & Grubmüller, 2014; Gurstein, 2011). Traditionally, this data would be analyzed and released in report form, with little to no access to the underlying raw data. As a counter to this traditional model, significant amounts of data collected by government, covering topics such as infrastructure, programs and services, demographic and descriptive profiles of the population, are now provided through open data portals for use by citizens, other levels of government, and the private sector. Often, this open data is used to enable civic technology applications, namely mobile phone applications used by citizens to access municipal government services or programs. For example, a common application such as a transit scheduling smartphone application requires a connection to government transit data that is of good quality, regularly maintained and updated, and provided to developers in an appropriate and accessible format (Johnson & Robinson, 2014; Longo, 2011). This type of civic technology application, often developed by third-parties, represents a rapidly growing area of information technology entrepreneurship, and one that is fuelled by the transition from closed data to open government data (Desouza & Bhagwatwar, 2014).

Open data programs are used to take data collected by government and deliver it to end users. These programs are often driven by motivations such as the search for efficiencies, increased transparency, and the creation of economic value (Bedini et al., 2014; Sieber & Johnson, 2015). These open data initiatives call for data, once limited to internal organizational use, to be opened up to the public at no cost, with few restrictions (Longo, 2011). Although the term open data is relatively new, the concepts of freedom of information and access to government data have been present for decades (Bonina, 2013). The Open Knowledge Foundation defines ‘open’ as the freedom to use, reuse and redistribute without restrictions beyond a requirement for attribution and share-alike (Open Knowledge Foundation, 2016). As well as emphasizing the importance of usability and access, “The work shall be available as a whole and at no more than a reasonable reproduction cost, preferably downloading via the Internet without charge. The work must also be available in a convenient and modifiable form” (Molloy, 2011, p. 1). Janssen et al. (2012) define open data as non-privacy-restricted and non-confidential data, produced with public money and made available without restrictions on usage or distribution.

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