Why Nonprofits Should Be Talking Open Data

May 31, 2016

“Open data” is a hot topic of conversation among government agencies and private companies, but voices across the nonprofit sector remain relatively quiet on the subject. To explore the potential implications of open data, it’s critical to first fully understand the term itself.

According to Open Data 500, a global network of organizations studying the opportunities and potential economic value around open information sharing, open data is defined as “data that is free, public data that can be used to launch commercial and nonprofit ventures, do research, make data-driven decisions, and solve complex problems.”

More specifically, according to the International Open Data Handbook, data must satisfy 3 criteria to be considered open. The data must:

  • Be available for free in a convenient and modifiable form;
  • Be provided under terms that allow for redistribution and re-use; and
  • Be universally available with no participation restrictions.

There are a number of nonprofits currently using and/or sharing open data across the sector including Code for America, College Board, and GuideStar, but advocates argue that providing open data should become common practice for all social sector organizations.

Nonprofits often express common concerns around privacy and technical capabilities, yet little attention is given to the many benefits of making nonprofit data open:

  • First of all, open data sharing increases transparency throughout the sector, reducing the potential for fraudulent activity and providing the public with more comprehensive sector specific facts and figures.
  • Second, open data represents opportunity for both cross-sector and intra-sector collaboration and efficiencies. With over 1.5 million registered nonprofits in America, it’s highly probable that hundreds if not thousands of nonprofits are using precious resources to collect the very same data that another organization is or has already collected. Opening up their data could open the door for lasting collaborations and eliminate these inefficiencies.
  • Lastly, open data is a tool that nonprofits should leverage to deliver a greater impact to their communities. Nonprofits across the nation are serving constituent bases whose needs are constantly changing. In order to truly understand the needs of their constituents and how best to deliver high-impact solutions, access to real time data is critical.

Sponsored by Code for America, Secondmuse, and NASA, the National Day of Civic Hacking is coming up on June 4th. The fourth annual National Day of Civic Hacking is a nationwide day of action where developers, government employees, journalists, data scientists, non-profit employees, and residents who care about their communities come together to host civic tech events, leveraging their skills to help others.

Interested in getting involved? See how here! Curious how to open up your organization’s data? See a step by step how-to guide here.

Written by Consultant, Emily Adams.

En Español »