I’ve opened my Government data – What next?

In my previous blog, I published my views about how governments can (and should) conduct due diligence in identifying the relevant datasets from their blackbox databases and open them up. This included identifying attributes of open data and mapping the data to a 5-star rating. Having touched on the significant potential that Open Government Data holds in the evolution of the Smart City ecosystem, I paused my thoughts with a question –

Is the Open Government Data story complete once government entities have made data available in 5-star format (the best possible format)? Or would you say the story has only started on a strong footing?

The answer to that question is fairly obvious to anyone who understands the Supply-Demand equation of any transaction – . However, what is important to note in the Open Government Data context is that the demand side of the equation involves substantial dynamics. There are 2 very critical aspects of demand – drive consumption and, more importantly, drive value-generation from open government data. The illustration below captures this journey succinctly.

 Three stages of Open Govt Data journey

The rest of this blog will detail what it takes to drive the consumption story for open government data.

Driving Data ConsumptionOpen Govt data journey - Stage 2

In a simplistic view, all this requires is for government entities to make a few commitments and honor them at all times.

  • Commitment to provide fresh data at all times
  • Commitment to bind the data service with a Service Level Agreement (SLA)
  • Commitment to maintain data quality at all times
  • Commitment to ensure data anonymity

The key to data consumption is to provide the Data Consumer sufficient evidence to instill trust in the relationship. As is observed with any relationship, an honored commitment is the best way to drive this. Hence, it becomes essential for Data Provider agencies to step lock with consumers at all times. One of the key concerns most consumers have is the governments usually are high-handed and set the rules of the game. Here is a scenario – A flourishing start-up has built a rich mobile app and open API for a service that brings together datasets from 3 different government agencies and combines that with data gathered from 2 other private entities. The app sources government data from an open data portal hosted by the government. The app has been in the market for about a year and has seen a good uptake because of the uniqueness of the service it offers. The start-up has been making healthy revenues through the mobile app and the open API that renders this service. One of the government agencies has done an internal study and has put in a regulation which restricts the contours of data that is shared outside the government. Following this, what if the agency decides that –

  • A certain dataset that was being used by the start-up will not be made available from the next quarter
  • The dataset refresh will be done only once every quarter instead of monthly
  • The nature/quality of data shared will change from the next refresh onwards
  • The dataset access will be blocked completely with immediate effect

The flourishing start-up will have no choice but to rework their innovative service around these new changes, provided that is feasible and practical. Unlike a B2B relationship where both parties have almost equal say, a G2B relationship is steered by one party – the Government.

It is to be recognized that the lack of transparency has an adverse impact on the public trust in the objectives and motives of the government. Open Data consumption is not a one-time task but a continual process that requires objective commitment levels from the data source entity over an extended period of time to gain the confidence of data consumers. It is time Governments get the balance right in the G2B relationship – as an example, they should come out with clear SLAs that govern the relationship. This is a common practice in any B2B and B2C relationships.

Another area that the governments need to work on is to influence and create the perception that they are doing enough to protect individuals’ rights to privacy and confidentiality of the data held by them. The last thing a data consumer would want is to be entangled in legal issues because the data was not anonymized1 or pseudonymised2 adequately/accurately at the source. Governments should be able to confidently state that the data is anonymized to an extent that it rules out any chances of a reconstruction through the Mosaic Effect3.

Generating value from Open DataOpen Govt data journey - Stage 3

Once the trust between the Data Source entities and Data consumers has been established, it is mostly up to the data consumers to tap into the data and generate value that was unseen for various reasons. More often, the value generation comes from the fact that the data consumers are able to correlate various datasets – government data, private data, and proprietary data – and render use cases that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. Having said that, the governments can still play a substantial role to positively influence the larger ecosystem.

As an example, in one of my earlier posts I had mentioned about the 5-star rating by Tim Berners Lee. One of the key aspects of open government data – ranging from 1-star to 5-star – is that the data consumer agency should be able to further license the data without restrictions on use as part of the public domain. Public data should be released such that it enables free re-use, including commercial re-use. The possibility to distribute data without restrictions will encourage consumption and generate new avenues in the city ecosystem to leverage the intrinsic value of open government data. This will spur further innovation.

Another way that Governments can play an active role in encouraging the community to innovate based on open data is by ensuring that datasets of real value are being made available. While the government may have thought through the data that can be opened up, it is only at the consumption stage that the lacunae in the nature or quality of data becomes apparent. Governments should establish a mechanism by which the consumers can submit their concerns about existing datasets or place requests for more relevant datasets. The government will be able to know the pulse of the consumer community only when such a closed loop exists. At the end of the day, the value of open government data is only realized when then data consumers can generate experiences (through mobile apps, open APIs et al) that enhance the living experience of the residents.

In conclusion, Governments have an active role to play all through the Open Data journey – from data identification to value-generation. Most governments consider their job done once the data is made available on the Open Data platform. As mentioned above, that is just half the job and will serve a minimal purpose without a focus on data consumption side. With large initiatives of this nature, it is essential to keep receiving encouraging signs for the government entities to stay engaged and for the Open Data initiative to sustain over a long tenure. Hence, it becomes essential to ensure that the data consumers are also constantly engaged and their expectations are reasonably met. The need is to establish an ecosystem where all stakeholders participate and play their role towards delivering an enhanced living experience.

1Anonymised Data – Data relating to a specific individual where the identifiers have been removed to prevent identification of that individual.
 2Pseudonymised Data – Data relating to a specific individual where the identifiers have been replaced by artificial identifiers to prevent identification of the individual.
 3Mosaic Effect – The process of combining anonymized data with auxiliary data in order to reconstruct identifiers linking data to the individual it relates to.

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