Who Benefits From Open Data

I’ve been involved in Open Data from late 2009 when Edmonton (#yeg) first started it’s Open Data initiative. Since then, I’ve participated in hackathons and MeetUps in both Surrey and Vancouver while living outside of Alberta. After moving back to Alberta, I’ve once again started to participate in the Open Data initiative within the City of Edmonton. While definitely in it’s infancy I believe this group does have a lot to offer to the citizens of Edmonton, and the current leadership appears motivated to get there. FYI, I’m involved, but not in a leadership role, I sit/listen/comment/criticize while others work.

Anyways, lately I’ve been thinking about this whole initiative and wondering who actually benefits from Open Data. And the answers I’ve come up with are below. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

1. Government
Open Data relies on the government first off organizing its data in a useable form, which is hard to believe many actually don’t always do. Being forced to organize the data is self-preservation for all the FOIP and accountability measures that are being brought up.
Government also benefits because it now has access to data from different Ministries and different levels of government (Federal, Municipal, Provincial) without having to jump through hoops that could have included signing data sharing agreements, memorandums of understanding that could sometimes take weeks if not years to hash out at a significant cost in terms of both employee and productivity.

2. Businesses
Releasing Open Data freely means not having to pay for access to data that once cost a bundle. Additionally, it also means that there is now data that they didn’t even know existed that they can use in conjunction with proprietary data to enhance business services.
Using Open Data isn’t as easy as downloading a data set most of the time, so there are also business opportunities for skilled analysts and companies that are willing to use these data products to provide new services to companies that need this information.

3. Citizens
In general, Open Data provides a benefit to every day citizens by providing access to information that would otherwise not be be available. But to be honest, knowing how much a government employee get’s paid, the demographics of my neighbourhood, or the type of tree in front of my house have a fairly limited benefit to my overall daily quality of life. The benefits of the data will come from how the government and business use the data.
There is currently a lot of movement around citizen engagement and citizens using the data to produce apps and new information, but is this a permanent movement or a temporary fad with the sudden access to information? Also, with citizens there is no incentive to continue to update these products save for general interest and for many people life has more demands than the data waiting on a website. Like my puppy that’s staring at me waiting for a walk.