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Understanding the Demand for Open Financial Data

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Image Credit: World Bank Flickr

Why worry about the demand for open data? 

When it comes to open data, much has been done around what we can publish, but much more can be done on identifying what others might need and want. Many open data initiatives have been started as supply-driven efforts seeking to increase transparency and leverage new information dissemination technologies - and that’s been a good way to start. However, being supply-driven is not the only way forward – a genuinely demand-driven approach would allow data providers to respond to, rather than anticipate, the data needs of users. 


So what is the demand for open data? This is a simple question that is difficult to answer. Unearthing even elements of the answer would help to increase understanding, inform the continued practical growth of open data efforts and activities, and hopefully result in more relevant, accessible, and widely-used data. 


Ongoing Challenges


Because people can typically access open data without registration, and use it without attribution (when attribution requirements do exist, they are rarely enforced) it has been a challenge to understand who is using data, what data is in demand and how data is being used. The occasional link-back offers anecdotes, but it’s difficult to grasp how far and to what ends open data travels.


Another challenge for open data initiatives in an international development context is that many efforts exist online while many beneficiaries of development assistance live in "offline" communities. Some estimate this group to include around 65 percent of the world's population. Even with "infomediaries" to contextualize data for specific audiences, understanding what information is relevant at the ground level, in offline communities, is important to unlocking the potential of open data in development. 


Ways to Measure Open Data Demand


Page views, downloads, and API calls are a few ways to measure and quantify demand, but they don’t tell us much about how data are used or what data users want but can’t find. Tracking social media chatter and ripples also offer insights into the reach of open data, particularly awareness. Efforts like the World Bank's Open Government Data Toolkit look at measuring and increasing the demand for data by looking at data consumption in events such as hackathons, bootcamps, and media workshops. Additionally, the Open Data Readiness Assessment Tool uses interviews to assess the levels of data demand and engagement within civil society, the private sector, and governments.


With a focus on the demand side of open financial data, we hope to build on this work and seek insight into two questions: What financial data are people using? What is being done with that data?


Exploring the Unknown Gaps


Through a survey, interviews, and offline pilots, we seek to capture trends in the demand for open data and use cases with a focus on financial data.  Actual use or consumption of open data that advances specific development outcomes is being sought as a measure of demand. Understanding this type of demand for financial data has significant implications for aid transparency and open development, especially for development organizations and governments at various stages of publishing open data or strategizing about the release of open data. For example, one of the early lessons from the World Bank's Open Finances experience is that contracts and procurement data are more readily consumed compared to other types of financial data. Is this just a feel-good anecdote? Can others confirm or cast doubt on this theory? This survey will help ground the experience of individual data providers and users.


The initial survey will be conducted online (it’s accessible through and embedded below) and targets the global community of users and publishers of open financial data. Although the survey is focused on financial data, we’re keen to hear from users of all other flavors of open data too. The survey has been designed to collect real use cases, potentially to scale or adapt to other areas. The survey will also provide respondents with an opportunity to request additional types of information and suggest potential use case scenarios for such information. 


All the data collected from this survey will be contributed back to the open data community through an interactive dataset that will be refreshed every two weeks. This data will also be used to design offline feedback pilots.


The offline pilots will test some of the early findings and seek to utilize existing citizen feedback mechanisms embedded in local communities, especially where development assistance is being implemented. Relevant open financial data will be repurposed and formatted in a way that makes sense for the communities selected to generate feedback. The offline results will be compared and analyzed against the findings of the online survey and interviews.


Legally, technically, and practically open


Many have been bitten by the Open Data bug. The potential for citizens responding to and interacting with local officials and development professionals to help monitor and improve the delivery and efficiency of public goods and services is understandably appealing. 


However, the gains offered by new information and technologies are not always evenly distributed. How can we ensure that open data doesn’t simply further empower the already empowered? How can open data be useful to those who need the most support?


As more information becomes legally and technically open, it is also important for it to be practically open. Adding context through an iterative approach based on demand is one way to start realizing the full potential of open data. This is what this project seeks to capture, and we hope you will join us on this quest.  


Have we missed anything? Have questions, comments, or concerns? Please feel free to leave comments below. 


Thank you in advance for your participation and feedback!


Questionnaire (scroll down to complete)




Samuel Lee

Consultant with SuM4All

Felipe Estefan

Open Government / ICT4Gov

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