After six days of the 2012 International Open Government Data Conference, which concluded last week, I and others are asking ourselves this question: Is there a business case for open government data?

Clearly, more needs to be done to spread what is working with open government data.

But when it comes to making a business case for open government data, there are at least three success models – or examples I am aware of:

  • Statistical agencies that get regular funding because it is critical to governmental decisions such as establishing congressional districts;
  • Intelligence agencies and the larger intelligence community that received a big budget increase for big data because of the need to find more needles in bigger haystacks;
  • Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other big data users of online data that learned they needed a data science team with an information platform to grow their businesses.
But the question remains, what business value can make open government data fundable and sustainable like the above three?
Maybe it is for some combination of all three. At the recent Health Datapalooza, I observed three main activities with data that I think are very relevant in answering that question:

First, there are the apps. One example of this is Tech Entrepreneurs and a $100,000 award for the best app for health consumers from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to Symcat, a symptom checker that analyzes patient records to tell you what patients like you actually had. It was an amazing demonstration and success story of a small group of four people that have only been working together for about four months.

Another activity is value-added data and data products. An example of this is how academia and industry are reusing and selling government data.

And a third activity is baseline data collection and scientific publication. An example of this is FedStats, which features 200 statistical programs in 70 Agencies.

Having participated at the 2012 IOGDC, it’s hard to imagine with all the government data available (see my report, “43 Nations Now Offer A Million Government Data Sets“) that we couldn’t foster those same activities to better effect. But as I wrote in “Putting the 2012 IOGDC Data To Work” more work needs to be done by the IOGDC organizers and its participants to make the data to work as advertised. I produced the following visualizations to illustrate the above:

But back to the question at hand: I recommend that to make open government data fundable and sustainable, one approach is to look to exploit data in ways that meet a combination of needs, again pointing to end-use consumers of the data:
  • Statistical agencies – With high quality data and statistical modeling and visualization expertise
  • Intelligence Community – Which depends on big data expertise and infrastructure
  • Google, Facebook, LinkedIn – Where data scientists and data science teams with information platforms might be able to take fuller advantage of government data.

Some examples of that data might include:

I hope that future conferences on open government data, including the upcoming 38 Degrees: Breaking Gov Conference, will feature data stories of how open government data has been put to work and the work of data scientists to make this field of endeavor sustainable and profitable.