It's one of the great ironies of the Internet that at the moment we have the technologies to permit easy access of data to all, the prevailing tendency is instead to lock it all up and prevent its widespread use.
That certainly doesn't have to be the case.
What is Open Data?
Open data means that governments offer data about their communities to the public online, free of charge. Open data government initiatives exist around the world, including Data.gov in the US, Data.gov.uk in the UK, and similar initiatives in Canada and India, among others. You can use this data to learn a lot about these countries, their governments, business, education, workforce, transport, maps, crime, and health, to name just a few sectors.
As economic developers, you are perfectly poised to provide all of your stakeholders with rich, robust and easy to access data about their communities. In fact, you may already be doing just that. But too often, economic developers miss opportunities to develop secondary and tertiary audiences for all the great data they are sharing with the world.
How economic developers can promote open data
Generally, when economic developers provide comprehensive online data tools such as ZoomProspector Enterprise and Intelligence Components, they are doing so to fulfill their primary mandates of attracting investment, nurturing existing businesses, and creating jobs to stimulate their local economies. And those tools have been demonstrably successful at doing just that, consistently raising the bar for excellent online information tools.
But they are also so much more than that. When you offer your community ZoomProspector Enterprise and Intelligence Components, you are making available some incredibly powerful research and analysis tools in the hands of many others in your community who can put it to good use.
Other than businesses making location decisions, who else would benefit from ED data?
Here's a short list of some stakeholders who benefit from free access to all of this information:
- Entrepreneurs studying the viability of a business ideas
- Researchers studying different aspects of your community
- Citizens who wish to learn more about their home town, county, region, state or province
- Teachers and students in area schools and colleges
- Journalists writing about your community who need reliable, up-to-date data
- Elected officials who need to know key data points, trends, and information about the constituencies they serve
- Chambers of commerce who will appreciate directing their members to excellent sources of market intelligence
- School administrators looking to understand changes in demographics around their schools
- Public and private transportation officials looking to understand how commercial development may affect traffic patterns
- Health officials tracking patterns that may impact population health
Why should I care about open data?
The most important reason, of course, is that you are offering considerable benefits to everyone in your community. It's hard to predict exactly how this data will be used but overall it tends to have a sum possible benefit to everyone.
The second reason is that it creates goodwill in the community towards economic development. It's no secret that many people don't really understand what economic development actually is or what you do, so offering them access goes a long way to building rapport with other stakeholders.
The final reason is that all this extra attention draws more people to your website and generates valuable new backlinks from other government offices, educational institutions and community organization. This dramatically improves your SEO, giving your website stronger ranking results with Google and other search engines. It's one of the basic tenets in website traffic generation that the more people visit, the more people will visit. That's a win-win proposition you can't ignore.
Open data initiatives are more than simple benevolence: the more information communities have about themselves, the better they can adapt policies and services to meet their own needs. Economic developers are almost always already providing great data, but they don't always think about marketing this information to audiences outside of the business community.
How do I promote our public data?
If you are already offering free, online data tools on your website, then congratulations! You've already done most of the work! The next step is thinking about how you describe this data and where you promote it.
- Use a variety of terms to describe your data tools. No one in the larger community is likely to click on a link called "GIS Tool," "Sites & Buildings Database" or "Property Locator." In fact, a tool like ZoomProspector Enterprise is so much more than either of those things, so consider calling it a "Location Analysis Tool" or "Community Data Tool" when you are promoting it to others. Using different words also helps with SEO, since people may enter a variety of search terms on Google.
- Reach out to important stakeholders and secondary audiences to let them know how the tool can work for them. That means drafting different versions of an email to send to school officials in your region, university and college librarians, journalists, etc. Consider how each audience might benefit from accessing this data.
- Actively encourage them to link to data tools on your website. Backlinks from media organizations, .edu, and .gov website are particularly powerful for SEO, but all links from reputable websites are valuable.
- Post links to the tools on your social feeds using the varied terminology suggested above.
- Include links to your online data tools with different descriptions on the Wikipedia entry for your community and organization.