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The First Steps to Creating Your Data Engagement Strategy

Sid Burgess is GovDelivery’s Senior Open Data Consultant. He is an industry leader on the intersection of technology and constituent services.

Data engagement is the concept of taking open data beyond the portal, using it to engage citizens across many contexts and improve their lives through better service delivery. This can best be accomplished by merging data and your communication strategy, considering them as essential to one another’s success.

This is the key to seeing a return on our investments in open data, to translating agency information into tangible benefits for citizens, and to establishing open data as a recognized success with excellent ROI for the majority of agencies.

For now, we’ll cover some high level tenets of data engagement in this post – and in the future, dive into details and real world examples to give you a starting point for your own data engagement strategy.

Publishing data is not enough

Simply building an online data portal does not guarantee that people will use it, or even realize it exists. Even the prettiest data portal won’t engage citizens, generate value, or prompt action all by itself. To deliver real benefits, agencies must create “demand” around their “supply” of information – that’s the goal of data engagement.

Common struggles in open data include low traffic, lukewarm adoptioninternal resistance, and lack of vital agency information. Data engagement serves as a proactive approach to counter these challenges. Instead of only publishing data, agencies should leverage communication strategies to:

  • Highlight services and applications driven by data (e.g., transit, licenses, safety, and voting)
  • Drive traffic to data outside the portal (e.g., embedded charts, maps, and dashboards )
  • Encourage mainstream adoption of open data (e.g., highlight ROI, demonstrate use cases)

Data management vs. driving outcomes

For most open data projects, the primary focus is the management of information (i.e., providing infrastructure and publishing datasets). But the secondary use of open data is that of driving outcomes – putting the information to work for both agencies and citizens.

Consider supply and demand – no company would expend resources to create capacity to produce and increase supply of product without a plan for meeting or increasing demand.

Similarly, agencies are expending resources to create a supply of information by building portals and curating data into them. The next step is to ensure and meet demand for the information by integrating data into useful services that citizens actually use. Finally, a communication strategy is needed to connect citizens with the data and its value. This is accomplished with a data engagement strategy.

More reach, higher value

The ROI of an open data project increases exponentially with an agency’s ability to reach the maximum number of citizens with the information. The greater your reach, the better you are able to convert data into citizen actions, like signing up for a service or keeping pet immunizations current.

When agencies can quantify the returns on their data investment, it’s easier to validate the effort and costs of collecting and sharing that data.

The State of Michigan is an example of how building reach can impact outcomes. In 2012, Michigan embarked on an effort to increase its audience with strategic communications. By utilizing the GovDelivery Network, Michigan grew it’s total reach to over 4 million subscribers. When it was time to implement a new recreational licensing system, Michigan was able to inform more people about the changes with ongoing digital communications that resulted in less confusion.

Leverage data for effective messaging

Finally, your communication can also benefit from your own data by using it to add credence to their messaging campaigns. This continues the process of making audiences more aware of the data that is available, while also making the message more powerful.

For example, a visualization of the number of flu cases last year could have a positive impact on the number of people who decide to take action and get a flu shot. A chart showing projected amounts of food waste that could be diverted from the landfill could have an impact on the number of people who choose to participate in a composting program. We’ll have more tips on how data can help you create effective messages in future posts.

As agencies start to open conversations around their data, they will see entirely new ways to drive outcomes, paving the way for more data projects when the ROI becomes clear. Open data continues to be full of incredible potential that will only be realized through strategic engagement with citizens.

Want to make sure your open data platform is a success? Click here to download our free open data checklist.