Open Data: Put Your Information to Work

(Originally published in the SustainAbility blog)

In a previous post, I shared some insights on open data’s relevance to sustainability reporting and stakeholder engagement. While the move to open data has many benefits, including enabling stronger stakeholder connections, companies have been slow to voluntarily go public with their datasets. At the same time, companies that are already moving down this path have recognized the challenge of ensuring the data they release is truly useful to stakeholders.

For example, in the pharmaceutical industry, the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations recently recommended that virtually all data from relevant clinical trials should be disclosed once a new medicine is cleared for marketing. That could push many companies in the industry to embrace a wider degree of transparency sooner than expected, but new tools will also be needed to help users navigate and understand the vast amount of data that is released.

In this light, we offer the following steps to help companies think through how to make data both open and useful:

  1. Do an information inventory. Examine company policies and programmes for privacy, security, and intellectual property, check how the company uses and shares information, determine opportunities and threats in releasing specific data sets. Having a good understanding of the ecosystem that the open data thrives in will allow a company to understand potential feedback.
  2. Be strategic with the data you are releasing. Be clear about what you hope to achieve with your data – for example, do you want your stakeholders to look for patterns or help you determine better ways of measuring impact? Nike, for example, had a hackathon with $6 million worth of its life cycle data, in hopes of unlocking more value and creating greater impact beyond usage at Nike. This coincides well with Nike’s desire for innovation and to drive system-level change.
  3. Manage data, change, and people. Make data usable and accessible for stakeholders, raise awareness of its availability, ensure your internal and external stakeholders have the right skills to use it, and provide incentives for stakeholders to use the information. For example, the MTA, the largest transit authority in the US, found that releasing schedule information in a useful format, removing licensing hurdles, and providing incentives for developers has yielded apps that facilitate improvements in rider experience.

While the concept of open data is still in its infancy in the corporate world, there is evidence that it is increasingly seen as an effective way of driving greater transparency, building trust and yielding key insights for both the providers and users. Those companies taking early steps to ensure that this data is available, accessible and useful, will be the ones who are best placed to build trust and stronger connections with stakeholders.



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