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Event Recap: The Economic Impact of Open Data

by Travis Korte
Speakers at the Economic Impact of Open Data event

This week the Center for Data Innovation held an event on “The Economic Impact of Open Data” in which New York University’s GovLab officially launched the Open Data 500 website, which features a comprehensive analysis of U.S. companies that use open government data as a key part of their business. The launch also coincided with announcements from the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the U.S. Open Data Institute.

Joel Gurin, GovLab’s senior advisor, announced the launch along with plans to host a series of “Open Data Roundtables” with various federal agencies. These meetings will convene government leaders with private sector data users to help prioritize open data releases according to demand. Gurin noted that for many agencies, a small minority of datasets represents a large majority of end-user demand. These meetings will help agencies better prioritize their resources to meet the specifications of the 2013 executive order that compels federal agencies to make their data available openly and in machine-readable formats.

Under Secretary of Commerce Mark Doms revealed that the Department of Commerce would be the first agency to participate in GovLab’s roundtables, noting that his department houses many major data collecting agencies with large data user communities, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Census Bureau. Other agencies that have signed on to participate in the roundtables include the Departments of Labor, Transportation, and Treasury.

Erie Meyer, senior advisor to the White House  Chief Technology Officer, announced the launch of Data.gov/impact, a page on the federal data portal devoted to showcasing private sector uses of open government datasets. Meyer also gave a case study of crop insurance company The Climate Corporation’s open data use. Blueberries, Meyer noted, have a  planting window of only a few days, and if there is an unexpected drought or flood, farmers can take major losses. The Climate Corporation looked at 50 years of weather data from six federal agencies to predictively model risk for their insurance products, and now has precise enough models to issue payouts automatically. This allows farmers to buy new seeds, replant immediately and stay within the planting window.

Finally, Waldo Jaquith, director of the U.S. Open Data Institute, announced the launch of an initiative to make data on hunting and fishing laws open. The institute will work to create new machine-readable standards and data structures to help make legal information less confusing and more accessible, and encourage innovation in the $75 billion industry.

All four speakers stressed the increasingly broad range of industries that make use of open data, the multitude of sources of data that these industries use, and the need for government agencies to work with private sector stakeholders to understand how to maximize the value of their data. Their announcements speak to the increasing ways companies are extracting economic value from open government data and should encourage government officials to deepen their commitments to enabling the use and reuse of data.

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