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How Open Data Is Creating New Opportunities in the Public Sector (Industry Perspective)

Open data has proven to be a catalyst for the creation of new tools across industries and government uses.

President Obama recently announced the launch of The Opportunity Project, an initiative to utilize digital tools and open data sets to help promote economic opportunity worldwide. With the move, the government is demonstrating a resolve toward implementing more transparent practices and enabling the opportunities that come with them.

At the heart of this project is a commitment to open data and making sure public information is readily available to citizens. This means gathering valuable data across diverse fields of study, from employment to housing to schools to transportation, and providing it openly via the latest and most accessible technology.

Open Data Resources

This list of resources is helpful to anyone exploring the world of open data:

Code for America — This national nonprofit organizes people who build technology, so they can connect on projects that promote "healthy, safe and prosperous" communities.

Data Coalition — A lobbying group working with legislators to advocate for open data publication of government information.

Open Definition — This site offers many examples of open licenses for reference and use.

Open Data Institute — Find helpful definitions, tools, tips and classes on open data use.

Sunlight Foundation — Another national nonprofit that uses various tools to enable transparency in government and politics. Its work spans the local, state, federal and international levels.

Why is this important? In order to improve any existing system or infrastructure, we must first know where we stand. The Opportunity Project is making a transformative difference in how the average citizen can engage data gathered by the government. They can now analyze the complex patterns and human behaviors at work within the vast amounts of available information.

In a markedly new way, citizens are now more empowered to participate in the policymaking process, accessing data that may support the changes they would like to see. Both symbolically and substantively, this openness acknowledges the public's role in shaping our government and country. At the same time, open data adds essential transparency to local and federal institutions, resulting in increasing accountability.

Why Open Data Is Significant

A recent look into the benefits of open data by Government Technology found advantages to the measurement of policy effects, more efficient government processes, deeper analytical insights, increased citizen participation, and benefits for local companies making use of government data in their products and services. And the data itself has incredible value. In the UK, an estimate puts the value of public-sector data at $9.6 billion (£6.8 billion), while McKinsey foresees a global market centered on open data driving between $3 trillion to $5 trillion each year.

Increased availability of open data in turn increases the ease with which citizens and their governments can collaborate, as well as equipping citizens to be active in identifying and addressing issues themselves. Technology developers are able to explore innovative uses of open data in combination with digital tools, new apps or other products that can tackle recognized inefficiencies. Currently, both the public and private sectors are teeming with such apps and projects.

Examples of Successful Projects Built Upon Open Data

Open data has proven to be a catalyst for the creation of new tools across industries and public-sector uses. Examples of a few successful projects include:

  • Citymapper — The popular real-time public transport app uses open data from Apple, Google, Cyclestreets, OpenStreetMaps and more sources to help citizens navigate cities. Features include A-to-B trip planning with ETA, real-time departures, bike routing, transit maps, public transport line status, real-time disruption alerts and integration with Uber.
  • Dataverse Project — This project from Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science makes it easy to share, explore and analyze research data. By simplifying access to this data, the project allows researchers to replicate others’ work to the benefit of all.
  • Liveplasma — An interactive search engine, Liveplasma lets users listen to music and view a web-like visualization of similar songs and artists, seeing how they are related and enabling discovery. Content from YouTube is streamed into the data visualizations.
  • Provenance — The England-based online platform lets users trace the origin and history of a product, also providing its manufacturing information. The mission is to encourage transparency in the practices of the corporations that produce the products we all use.
These examples demonstrate open data’s reach, value and impact well beyond the public sector. As open data continues to be put to wider use, the results will not be limited to increased efficiency and reduced wasteful spending in government, but will also create economic growth and jobs due to the products and services using the information as a foundation.

However, in the end, it won’t be the data alone that solves issues. Rather, it will be dependent on individual citizens, developers and organizations to see the possibilities, take up the call to arms and use this available data to introduce changes that make our world better.

Martin Yan is a business strategist at Liferay, an open source platform provider that helps companies create digital experiences on Web, mobile and connected devices.