Americans’ Views on Open Government Data

The upshot has been the appearance of a variety of “open data” and “open government” initiatives throughout the United States that try to use data as a lever to improve government performance and encourage warmer citizens’ attitudes toward government.

This report is based on the first national survey that seeks to benchmark public sentiment about the government initiatives that use data to cultivate the public square. The survey, conducted by Pew Research Center in association with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, captures public views at the emergent moment when new technology tools and techniques are being used to disseminate and capitalize on government data and specifically looks at:

  • People’s level of awareness of government efforts to share data
  • Whether these efforts translate into people using data to track government performance
  • If people think government data initiatives have made, or have the potential to make, government perform better or improve accountability
  • The more routine kinds of government-citizen online interactions, such as renewing licenses or searching for the hours of public facilities.

The results cover all three levels of government in America — federal, state and local — and show that government data initiatives are in their early stages in the minds of most Americans. Generally, people are optimistic that these initiatives can make government more accountable; even though many are less sure open data will improve government performance. And government does touch people online, as evidenced by high levels of use of the internet for routine information applications. But most Americans have yet to delve too deeply into government data and its possibilities to closely monitor government performance.

Among the survey’s main findings:

As open data and open government initiatives get underway, most Americans are still largely engaged in “e-Gov 1.0” online activities, with far fewer attuned to “Data-Gov 2.0” initiatives that involve agencies sharing data online for public use….

Minorities of Americans say they pay a lot of attention to how governments share data with the public and relatively few say they are aware of examples where government has done a good (or bad) job sharing data. Less than one quarter use government data to monitor how government performs in several different domains….
Americans have mixed hopes about government data initiatives. People see the potential in these initiatives as a force to improve government accountability. However, the jury is still out for many Americans as to whether government data initiatives will improve government performance….
People’s baseline level of trust in government strongly shapes how they view the possible impact of open data and open government initiatives on how government functions…
Americans’ perspectives on trusting government are shaped strongly by partisan affiliation, which in turn makes a difference in attitudes about the impacts of government data initiatives…

Americans are for the most part comfortable with government sharing online data about their communities, although they sound cautionary notes when the data hits close to home…

Smartphone users have embraced information-gathering using mobile apps that rely on government data to function, but not many see a strong link between the underlying government data and economic value…