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GCN : May 2015
30 GCN MAY 2015 • GCN.COM how to OPEN DATA The White House’s 2013 man- date to open more data to the public has spurred many agencies to act, but releasing data just to meet requirements doesn’t mean the data will be useful. Fortunately, a new formula can help agency IT managers decide which da- tasets are worth opening. “It was hard to have a conversation about open data because lots of people have biases,” said Arnaud Sahuguet, chief technology officer at New York University’s Governance Lab. “People want government to open more data, government is a little bit scared of opening the data, and private compa- nies, honestly, they have no clue. So we were trying to find an icebreaker where you start the conversation.” That’s how he and David Sangokoya, a research fellow at the lab, came to take a calculus formula used for voter turnout and adapt it to open data. Thecalculusis:P×B+D>C. P is the probability that opening the data will have some effect, B is the in- dividual benefit of opening the data, D is the global or ecosystem impact, and C is the cost of opening the data. The last piece, especially, often gets overlooked. In a blog post, the re- searchers wrote that costs come in the form of reformatting data into an open format, publishing it, ensuring it meets legal requirements, and covering li- abilities and risks should something go wrong with the data — for instance, if personal or incorrect data is released. “Oftentimes, it’s not a binary deci- sion,” Sahuguet added. “It’s more a de- cision about cost, and when the cost is too high, the decision [to open] is no.” For example, it might not be worth the risks to share data when there are privacy issues, liabilities or lack of frameworks. “Our point of view is, at the end of the day, you will get a num- ber on the left, you will get a number on the right, and you have to compare the two and make your own decision,” he said. Precise numbers aren’t necessary for drawing conclusions, he added, and estimates can go a long way in facili- tating decisions. Opening data for the sake of open- ing data is only one mistake agencies are making, the researchers said. An- other issue is that each agency seems to open data its own way, Sahuguet said. “There is a big Tower of Babel issue where if you have to compare response time for 911 emergencies in various cities in the United States or compare spending on education, [it’s difficult]. So I’d say the No. 1 mistake is the fact that everybody’s opening the data the way that it fits, and there is no real standard.” Additionally, agencies aren’t con- sidering the full ecosystem. The work doesn’t end when the data is open, Sa- huguet said, because a workflow needs A new formula helps agencies weigh the costs and benefits of making their data available to the public Calculating open data’s real ROI BY STEPHANIE KANOWITZ “If there is not an ecosystem of developers, hackers, community members who are really going to be engaged with your data, if there is no future of data-drivenness or data acumen on the recipient side, it’s just like screaming in a forest. Nobody is going to hear you.” – ARNAUD SAHUGUET, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY’S GOVERNANCE LAB 0515gcn_030-031.indd 30 4/30/15 9:53 AM