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One good thing about taxes is that they get citizens invested in government -- literally. Taxpayers want to be sure that the government spends their money sensibly, but first they must know how their hard-earned cash gets spent.

Open Data Opens Government 02-12-2013-A
The City of Edmonton works in an open-data and open-government manner. (Photo from SAP TV)

“The public seeks transparency not for the sake of transparency, but as a tool to hold their leaders accountable to results,” open government advocacy organization California Forward stated last week. “Conversely, governments may pursue openness as a means to increase efficiency by promoting inclusion and civic participation, which in turn fosters innovation.”

Open data initiatives are happening in democracies around the world at all levels of government. Such programs seek “to ‘liberate’ government data and voluntarily-contributed corporate data to fuel entrepreneurship ... and create jobs,” according to a White House Web site.

But governments should determine what will best nurture accountability and innovation before breaking the chains on their data, a recent report by the Albany-based Center for Technology in Government (CTG) found. “The Dynamics of Opening Government Data” appraised the value of emancipated information through the lens of road construction in Edmonton and restaurant inspections in New York City.

Northern Exposure

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“A best-run city is a city that has a vision [and] plans that will achieve that vision,” Edmonton CIO Chris Moore told SAP TV.

Edmonton, home to around 900,000 people in Alberta, Canada, has used open and Big Data to redesign intersections, leading to fewer accidents and fatalities, according to Chris Moore, the city’s CIO. Providing open data for co-creation and collaboration helps Edmonton and its constituents communicate better via citizen dashboards, privately developed mobile applications and gamification.

But putting a dollar value on open data is tricky because there’s rarely an empirical ROI on business data, Moore told SAP Business Trends. So the city shares data, and the public creates applications, which saves taxpayer money and makes it easier for departments to share information.

“The public sector is nebulous -- it’s difficult to assign value to some things,” Moore said. “We do some things just because they make sense.”

An Open Book

Restaurant owners in New York were outraged when the city first made public its restaurant inspection data in 2007, but unexpectedly high citizen query volumes crashed the city’s IT infrastructure. Poorly reviewed restaurants cleaned up their acts and clamored for do-overs, and the city hired more people to meet increasing demand for follow-up inspections updated data.

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Edmonton no longer spends tax dollars to make useful applications. It puts data online, and citizens create applications on their own. (Photo from SAP TV)

“Release of the data can’t be the end game,” state and local government news site GOVERNING noted. “It’s just the beginning.”

Governments must consider which data to release based on what would be valuable. Innovation and accountability will not be possible if administrations and agencies do not manage and update their open data initiatives.

Tax Money Well Spent

“Transparency is an ongoing commitment, not a one-time deal,” California Forward stated. “Transparency is a cornerstone of good government and that ... is key to earning back the public’s trust.”

No matter how one measures ROI, well-executed open data initiatives can inspire citizens civically, technologically and vocationally. All three yield excellent returns for the taxpayer.

Related Media:

The dynamics of governing Open Data” on California Forward

City of Edmonton: Customer Testimonial Video” on SAP TV

Transparency, Social Media and Gun Safety” on GOVERNING