Value proposition of open data : a framework for measuring success

Performance measurement is all about storytelling, but as with most things, it helps to have a logical framework to build that story arch.  Best practice tells us we should measure success in terms of effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction > both internally to government and externally to public.  Since there may not be proven examples out there yet because it’s a new idea, scenarios provide an opportunity to communicate the value proposition and make sure that we do in fact collect the data required to demonstrate success with facts and figures at the end.

Government services to the public must be effective and efficient, and satisfy the needs of the public.

Measuring effectiveness

The government’s goal is to achieve set desired (long-term) outcomes in order to contribute to a better quality of life for Canadians. Each department has a mandate to meet certain needs of the public, among them, socio-economic development, public health and environmental protection.

Providing structured data proactively allows:

  • Citizens to create visualizations that communicate the information in various ways and related to various things in order to identify gaps and trends on which to make informed decisions about their quality of life.
  • These visualizations or the original data can help potential entrepreneurs and businesses identify gaps and couple it with other sets for insights (market intelligence) that improve ability to earn a living and provide a necessary service, as well as understand where and how to promote that service.
  • Groundswell: individuals and organizations to self-organize (crowdsource) to solve a problem or improve a situation.

For this we would look at measuring our effectiveness through case studies where individuals who were able to make informed decisions about where they wanted to live, for example, or businesses made money using the data.  This story is best told through first person narrative in my opinion. In the meantime, maybe a fictional story (scenario) would help.

Here’s an example: Let’s say the government has a data set of contaminated sites with attributes such as location and details about what makes them contaminated.

  • An individual: might mash it up with a map, and color code it by risk level, making it easier to prioritize what should be cleaned up first.
  • Academia/researchers/non-profits: might realize an opportunity to invest in a certain technology to address a certain type of contamination that is prevalent or has potential business application.
  • Business/entrepreneur: might propose a solution on how to tackle clean up, and propose doing so through grants from the government.
  • Community association/other level of government: might partner with federal government to clean up areas in their neighbourhood for a nominal fee or in exchange for another service, such as a permit to build a park or designate the area protected in an attempt to avoid future contamination.

Measuring efficiency

Government money is on loan from the taxpayers and therefore, we must demonstrate reasonable spending to deliver services to citizens.

Providing structured data proactively allows:

  • Departments to spend less to deliver the same/improved service (current savings)
  • the starting point to respond more quickly/easily/cheaply to changes in technology and citizen expectations (future savings)

For this we would look at describing/measuring our efficiency in terms of a ratio of cost for value. This is also useful for creating an equation of how much of the current spend we should re-invest in improvements.

Here’s an example: Imagine everyone in an organization spends 10 minutes every day looking for something they need to do their job. Assume an average salary of $40,000 (multiplied by) 100 employees = we are spending $370 a day? Assuming 225 working days in a year, that’s $83,250/year for a small organization where everyone’s only spending 10 minutes a day looking for information. My guess is that the real numbers, in government organizations alone is more like an hour a day, across hundreds of thousands of employees.  What if we were able to reduce that by 20% (eg. 2 minutes)? How much could be saved?

Now imagine that everyone who needs a government service spends on average 10 minutes looking for information about it and is able to do so more easily? What’s the cost savings now?

Providing structured data proactively allows:

  • Individuals to choose to pull information into other systems (mobile device, feedreader, a widget) where it’s most convenient for them to access and return to later.
  • Governments to partner with other departments, levels of government, non-profits or businesses to provide services that offer higher value to citizens.

There’s also an equation to be considered around the cost to be reactive vs. proactive. What if we just committed 10% of annual budget currently spent on providing documents under the “Access to Information” Act? Is that a cost that’s worth shifting into innovation in order to be proactive and prepared for the future? What could we achieve with that? How long would it take us to see a return on investment (ROI)?

Measuring satisfaction

As a public service, we must provide a level of satisfaction to all involved, since we exist to meet a public need.

Providing structured data proactively allows:

  • Employees to have interesting work packages that is meaningful and uses upper brain functions, relegating rote tasks to automation. (PS Renewal argument)
  • Citizens to engage in a more meaningful way with government to help make decisions/create policy and services together about quality of life issues such as trade-offs between environmental degradation and economic prosperity.

For this we would look at  measuring employee satisfaction and the trust/confidence that citizens have with government.

Citizen engagement has already been described as: providing information as a service; getting feedback on services (how we’re doing) & policies (what we’re doing); consulting with stakeholders; and facilitating dialogue amongst citizens and various interest groups (the government as a platform model) to solve complex problems that affect our quality of life. Open data is one way of informing or providing these types of engagement.  Comments? Questions? Feel free to re-do my math; that’s definitely not my strong point!

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About Laura

As a Business Analyst working for the Canadian federal government in Web usability, I have the opportunity to be a part of a growing movement of professionals implementing user-centered design principles.
This entry was posted in Government websites, Improving the Public Service, Measuring success and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Value proposition of open data : a framework for measuring success

  1. Great post – I would add that part of measuring success is also having a consistent technology framework. Some standardization in this area will be very valuable.

  2. Steve Ardire says:

    Hi Laura – nice post!

    Really like the recurring theme ‘Providing structured data proactively allows’ with fine examples.

    Look forward to showing you Citizen Dan.

    – Steve

  3. Laura says:

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

    Steve – I’m looking forward to seeing Citizen Dan at some point.

    Leanne – Good point on standardization – I would assume that to be part of the efficiency metrics, as the more consistency that can be implemented, the easier it will be to adapt to changing technology and user expectations over time.

  4. Thom Kearney says:

    Good stuff, I like the efficiency angle. Is there a way to work sustainability into the model?

  5. Laura says:

    Good question! I’ll have to think about that.

  6. Laura says:

    I also wanted to add this link to how to do ‘data use’ scenarios for data sets in case anyone is working on defining the value proposition for open data.

    Obviously David Eaves is another source of info and inspiration so his blog is an excellent starting place if you’re doing something on open data.

  7. Laura says:

    Oh cool, someone also sent me this by email: Real, Quantifiable Benefits from Open Government Data

    As well as the TED video of the new Prime Minister of the UK, David Cameron talking about information and transparency.

  8. Pingback: Wikinomics – A visual model showing the value of open data

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