Impacts of open data: efficiency

The following post is an excerpt from my thesis entitled Linked open data for public sector information.
The public sector itself is the primary user of public sector data. Open access to public data thus impacts the way the public sector operates. While the initial costs of opening up data may turn out to be significant, adopting open data promises to deliver cost savings in the long run, enabling the public bodies to operate more efficiently. “There is a body of evidence which suggests that proactive disclosure encourages better information management and hence improves a public authority’s internal information flows” [1, p. 69]. For instance, open data produces cost savings on cheaper information provision and efficient development of applications providing services to citizens.
For information provision, similarly to health services, prevention is cheaper than therapy [2]. Prevention via proactive disclosure is presumed to be more cost-efficient than therapy via acting on the demand of freedom of information requests [3, p. 25]. Open data saves the effort spent on responding freedom of information requests by providing the requested data in advance. In this way, the effort of providing data is expended only once, instead of repeating it due to the requests for the same data. Although the initial set-up overhead for open data may be higher, it is supposed to lower the per-interaction overhead.
Open data promotes a new way of information management that may streamline the data handling procedures and curb unnecessary expenditures. By elimination of the costs associated with access to public sector data the adoption of open data removes the expenses on data acquisition from public sector bodies selling their data. In effect, a better interagency coordination is established, which lessens administrative friction. Given the reduced workload, it may lead to destruction of some clerical jobs [2], which will produce savings on labour costs.
A common argument in favour of open data is based on the observation that the public sector is not capable of creating applications providing services to citizens in a cost-efficient way. Commissioning software for the public sector must pass through the protracted process of public procurement. Such procedure is slow to respond to users’ demands and the resulting applications may end up being costly. With openly available public sector data, the public sector is no longer the only producer that can deliver applications based on the data. Third parties may take the data a produce applications on their own, substituting the applications subsidized by the public sector. This is how a more cost-efficient means of production of applications may be devised.
The way in which open data makes efficiency of the public sector better is not limited to monenatary savings. The internal impact of open data encompasses that the data quality may be improved by harnessing the feedback from citizens. It may also inform the way the public sector is governed through evidence-based policies.
Opening data enables anybody to inspect it. Feedback from users probing the data puts a pressure on the public sector to improve the data quality. Better quality data enables better quality service delivery, improving the pursue of public task on many levels, such as better responsiveness to citizen feedback. Based on user feedback, collection of less used datasets may be discontinued, leading to a more responsive and user-oriented data disclosure.
Quality of data influences the quality of the policy that is based upon it [4]. It may become a source for a more efficient, evidence-based policy. Public policies may be improved by considering data as an input, as an evidence of the phenomena to be policed, and should be made with publicly available data [Ibid., p. 384], empirical data that is open to public scrutiny [5, p. 4], in order to keep the policy creators accountable.


  1. Beyond access: open government data & the right to (re)use public information [online]. Access Info Europe, Open Knowledge Foundation, January 7th, 2011 [cit. 2012-04-15]. Available from WWW: http://www.access-info.org/documents/Access_Docs/Advancing/Beyond_Access_7_January_2011_web.pdf
  2. FIORETTI, Marco. Open data, open society: a research project about openness of public data in EU local administration [online]. Pisa, 2010 [cit. 2012-03-10]. Available from WWW: http://stop.zona-m.net/2011/01/the-open-data-open-society-report-2/
  3. HALONEN, Antti. Being open about data: analysis of the UK open data policies and applicability of open data [online]. Report. London: Finnish Institute, 2012 [cit. 2012-04-05]. Available from WWW: http://www.finnish-institute.org.uk/images/stories/pdf2012/being%20open%20about%20data.pdf
  4. NAPOLI, Philip M.; KARAGANIS, Joe. On making public policy with publicly available data: the case of U.S. communications policymaking. Government Information Quarterly. October 2010, vol. 27, iss. 4, p. 384 — 391. DOI 10.1016/j.giq.2010.06.005.
  5. SHADBOLT, Nigel. Towards a pan EU data portal — data.gov.eu. Version 4.0. December 15th, 2010 [cit. 2012-03-10]. Available from WWW: http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/policy/psi/docs/pdfs/towards_an_eu_psi_portals_v4_final.pdf

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