It’s time to bring more data into government decision-making

We can make data work for both individuals and communities by harnessing its power to improve decision-making processes. Data is everywhere from the grocery store to the government, and it’s time to put it to work so that we can make better and more informed choices at every step.

More and more we’re seeing local governments track the effectiveness of programs and services it offers to its residents. And we at the Sunlight Foundation are part of a major initiative to help them embrace the power of data. This focus on utilizing data and measuring results marks the beginning of a new era in management of local government.

The 100-year-old movement to improve cities and city governments began in the Progressive Era when reformers such as Theodore Roosevelt and Louis Brandeis worked to end the corruption and bribery that were running rampant throughout America’s largest cities. One of the reforms that emerged during this era was the council-manager form of government, where an elected city council developed city policy and a professional city manager implemented policy.

In the 1970s and 1980s, a second wave of reform saw cities begin to experiment with bringing public feedback and democratic deliberation into decision and policymaking. By consciously emphasizing the importance of public engagement, cities learned to work alongside their residents.

If efficiency and engagement were the core values of the first two waves of municipal reform, evidence is now the driving force behind the third. We believe the time to harness the power of data to improve government performance is now.

The first step toward this goal is to change practice, policy and law to make more government data open and accessible to public. Open data is publicly available for anyone, including citizen activists, businesses, the research community and government employees, to access and use without making a formal request to the government.

After we’ve flipped the switch to open, it’s time to make use of the data that’s there. Data is a tool that can help answer some of the most pressing questions city governments and communities are facing today. More open data has numerous positive effects — benefitting both the public and government — including increasing government capacity at low cost, encouraging innovation, increasing transparency and accountability, and increasing public trust and engagement.

We’ve made great progress in putting data and information to work to improve government, services and, ultimately, people’s lives. Let’s keep up the momentum.

Knight Foundation is collaborating on the Knight News Challenge on Data with Data & Society and Open Society Foundations. Apply and give feedback on other projects at Winners will be announced in January 2016.