How the Open Data Movement Can Realize Its Potential

Adam Neufeld
Senior Fellow

The last decade has seen a lot of discussion and activity around the democratic and economic potential in government standardizing or publishing its information as open data. Politicians from across the spectrum have extolled the accountability benefits of open data, passing legislation and issuing executive orders. And organizations have pushed the benefits of open data as a key ingredient for government to innovate in performing its missions. Additionally, advocates have encouraged open data as a way to help the economy, with McKinsey estimating that opening up more data could result in over $3 trillion of economic benefits.

While the open data movement has achieved some significant successes – from the DATA Act to – we have not come close to living up to the potential or even the current rhetoric. Lots of valuable data is still within governments’ walls, especially anything that smacks of personally identifiable or sensitive business information, or where government procured a system in a way that prevents data sharing. The government also provides much of its open data only as spreadsheets, rather than in formats like application programming interface (API) that allow for greater use. In fact, some of the most valuable public information is not machine-readable at all, such as financial regulatory filings. And a lot of data that has been released is not really being used to improve the private, nonprofit or government sector.

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