OpenData 500 Launch Demonstrates Open Data API Value

Mark Boyd
Apr. 09 2014, 10:30AM EDT

Open data advocates are often challenged to demonstrate the benefits and share the use cases of opening data before being able to encourage the next level of enabling access to open data via API. Now, two new U.S. resources are available that provide a more granular insight into how businesses are using open data to create products and power the next wave of industry innovation.

ProgrammableWeb talked to Joel Gurin, Head Researcher of the OpenData 500 project and Daniel Castro, Director of the Center for Data Innovation about how business is making use of open data, and the roadmap to making open data available by API.

In recognition of Open Data Day yesterday, the OpenData 500 launched its first survey results showing how U.S. companies are using a range of government data sources to better manage their businesses: whether that be by using open data to create products or to improve decision-making and productivity. Meanwhile, the Federal Government’s data.gov agency released a new web portal, Impact, listing how companies like those surveyed by the OpenData 500 are using data sources in their business value chains.


ABOVE: Types of industry sectors where companies are using open data in their businesses, sourced from OpenData 500

“This is a very different kind of demonstration to what has previously been done,” Joel Gurin, Senior Advisor at the NYU Governance Labs (GovLab), and Lead Researcher at the OpenData 500 told ProgrammableWeb. “In the past, when McKinsey, and others, have documented the benefits of open data, it has been at a very high level, and while that is very important, we are getting a very detailed, granular look at what is possible with open data.

“When we first set out to do this, we thought that we would be able to get in-depth results around what datasets companies are using, etc, but the reality is that everyone is busy and it is hard to get that info from a survey,” Gurin explained. “So what we have done is shifted focus and push for a better understanding of what agencies have data that companies are using. We want to get it more precise as we go forward.”

Some of the businesses that did respond are also featured in the new resource from data.gov giving bullet point lists of how companies are using open data, and the impact this is having on their business.


ABOVE: Screenshot of some of the open data impacts made available at data.gov/impact

“The OpenData 500 is very useful,” says Daniel Castro, Director at the Data Innovation Center in Washington D.C. “What we have been struggling to do, is to make the connections very clear between economic and social benefits. What the OpenData 500 does is it creates a map of where the innovation is occurring. For example, it lets Members of Congress see that companies are creating jobs in their districts using open data and lets them ask these businesses about how their business model works.”

Marc DaCosta, Co-Founder of Enigma, an open data platform that provides industry with advanced search tools to query one of the largest public collections of open data being managed by a private startup, is excited by the potential that OpenData 500 can unleash:

“We’re very excited by the wonderful work the OpenData 500 team is doing. I think the kind of broad based study that they are undertaking is very important as a way to help communicate and focus the value implications of public data both for driving private sector job growth and public sector efficiency.

“This study is a landmark because it is helping to move the conversation around public data from something which is seen a general good, to something that can be defended as a huge source of economic value.

“I think that to continue the trend of more and more private sector value creation around public data, government agencies really need to do two key things: 1. continue building on the hard work underway to catalog and account for all of the data within their purview and 2. to publish as much of it as they can. Today, the biggest challenges around harnessing public data come from two main corners. On the one hand, its still very difficult to know what kind of public data exists and how to access it. On the other hand, even once its identified cleaning it and wrangling it in a way that can integrate with various business processes is a non trivial task.”

Gurin is confident that solving these two challenges is the next step for GovLab, the New York University research agency that oversaw the OpenData 500 project, and that is now involved with setting up roundtables between government and business to ensure the open data agenda progresses.

“As an independent third party, GovLab can convene business and government representatives and ask them what will make the use of Government open data better. We have the freedom to do that which government agencies can’t, I really believe this can be transformational. So far, we have five of the ten agencies on board that provide open data to the largest number of companies. So by the day of our launch yesterday, we have already gone from a pilot project to being the way that government agencies are going to get input on their data program,” Gurin said.

As the roundtables between government and business help reveal what is needed to make the open data agenda even more mainstream for business usage, Gurin believes enabling open data access via API will become a key talking point:

“That’s a really important point for us to focus on. This really is a conversation. On the business side, we will be looking at what open data they use, and how the supply can be better. On the government side, we are asking what they have coming up, and i think APIs will be a really central part of the conversation.”

So far, OpenData 500 has about 190 survey responses from those companies initially contacted, and has created JSON and CSV access to the raw data underpinning their survey, which will also be available via API at a future date.

Mark Boyd is a ProgrammableWeb writer covering breaking news, API business strategies and models, open data, and smart cities. I can be contacted via email, on Twitter, or on Google+.

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