Making data open and accessible in a standard, machine-readable format by default can have significant productivity and cost savings for agencies. When conducting a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether and to what extent to modify existing datasets and systems in accordance with the recommendations of this memo, consider the following potential benefits.
Save time and money responding to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. When data is open by default, the public can access the information it seeks directly, freeing your agency from the time and cost expenditures related to responding to FOIAs.
Avoid duplicative internal research. Transparency into the total universe of data held by your agency helps prevent the possibility of wasting funds re-collecting data simply because a particular program or department is unaware of that data’s existence. Further, it may be possible to reduce the scope and cost of new collections based on the ability to re-use and/or pair with existing data. Maintaining a central data catalog for your agency makes it easier to understand what information is currently available, and reviewing this catalog prior to the start of any new data collection is a recommended best practice.
Discover complementary datasets held by other agencies. The benefits of transparency into your agency’s own datasets are amplified when every agency maintains its own standardized data catalog. Programs may realize that some or all of the data they need are already held by one or more other agencies, or that more powerful conclusions can be drawn from combining existing agency-held datasets with additional data across other agencies.
Empower employees to make better-informed, data-driven decisions. The new requirement to publish details about each dataset owned by your agency in a specific format will power a central search engine at Data.gov that every single Federal employee (and member of the public) can use to easily locate data held, owned, and/or created by the Federal Government. Making it easier to find existing data is key to being able to then incorporate that data into your agency’s everyday decision-making processes.
Positive attention from the public, media, and other agencies. In recent years, entire events celebrating the release and use of open government data – many hosted by the White House – have taken place, with corresponding media coverage and international attention. The more data your agency makes available in easy-to-consume formats, the more opportunities for positive coverage of the availability and impact of those data and your agency’s efforts.
Generate revenue and create new jobs in the private sector. McKinsey estimates that open health data alone adds over $300 billion to the economy each year. Entrepreneurs and non-profits integrate existing open government datasets in ways ranging from web apps that connect you with the nearest hospital in case of an emergency, with information from Health and Human Services, to matching prospective college students with the most appropriate schools, based on IPEDS data maintained by the Department of Education. Making more of your agency data publicly available in standards-compliant, machine-readable formats makes it easier for private sector companies and entrepreneurs to create new innovations fueled by your agency’s data.