When you believe in something and could talk for hours and write through mealtimes about it, it’s hard to remember that some folks you’re trying to get on board are primarily interested in the ROI – return on investment.
When that something is open data, the ROI conversation can be particularly challenging. Most of us accept intuitively that there are compelling value propositions for organizations to pursue open data. This article, The Real ROI for Government Open Data, lists eight such propositions and provides dollar equations for each:
- Economic Development and “Government as Platform”
- Freedom of Information Costs
- Tax Compliance
- Reduced Perceived Business and Donor Risk
- It’s a Network
However, much of what we hope happens when an open data ecosystem comes online is change in the behavior of government, or in other words, we seek a social impact.
Strong evidence on the long-term impact of open data initiatives is incredibly scarce. The lack of compelling proof is partly due to the relative novelty of the open government field, but also to the inherent difficulties in measuring good governance and social change.
With generous support from the Open Data for Development Research Fund of the OGP Open Data Working Group, we at the Sunlight Foundation wanted to tackle some of the methodological challenges of the field through building an evidence base that can empower further generalizations and advocacy efforts, as well as developing a methodological framework to unpack theories of change and to evaluate the impact of open data and digital transparency initiatives.
The research outcomes include “…a searchable repository of more than 100 examples on the outputs, outcomes and impacts of open data and digital technology projects…”. This database provides specific examples to both those of us evangelizing about open data, and those who are curious enough to explore what open data does in the real world for the real people and organizations trying it. You can read all of the Sunlight Foundation’s research reflections here.
Although these resources fill a void in examining and explaining the value of open data, Sunlight indicates that this research is just the beginning.
Sunlight’s aim with this research has been to boost the conversation around impact assessment in the open government field, as well as to provide a base for advocacy purposes and perhaps further research. We believe that focusing on mid-term outcomes, as opposed to long-term impact or short-term output, might be the next step for the open data community in order to create a solid base for evaluation. We also think that further work is needed to develop clear change models for most open data and open government projects.
OpenNEO seeks to boost the conversation around open data and open government, generally and specifically. But we know we must speak in terms of ROI too. This work from the Sunlight Foundation is a valuable tool through which Northeast Ohio can both learn about open data, and pursue it for social impact.