The API Briefing: Top Five Findings for API Developers from Pew Research Center

Apr 29, 2015
A keyboard key has a green button with a bar chart on it.

The Pew Research Center just released a report on how Americans view open government data. The following findings were based on a November to December 2014 survey of 3,212 adults.

  1. Two-thirds of Americans use the Internet or an app to connect with the government.
According to Pew, 37% use the Internet to connect with the federal government, 34% connect with their state government, and 32% connect with their local government. It would be interesting to see a further breakout of [users who use an app or mobile devices]( "Trends on Tuesday: 40% of Smartphone Users Look up Government Information") versus a desktop or laptop computer and Internet browser.
  1. The most popular reason for connecting with the government is to find information about government recreational activities.
Twenty-seven percent of users searched for information about recreation while close behind with 18% is users who renewed their driver’s licenses or auto registrations. The third most popular reason (13%) is to learn more about and/or apply for government benefits.
  1. Most Americans do not realize that they are using government data when they use apps.
A large majority of users consistently refer to apps that provide weather information or directional information. These apps rely on data provided by the National Weather Service or the federal government’s Geographical Positioning System (GPS). Often the government data is mixed with proprietary information or services that obscure the origins of the essential [data provided by the government](
  1. Few Americans think that the government shares data effectively.
Only 5% of respondents agreed that the federal government and state governments are very effective in sharing data. Local government does slightly better with 7% agreeing that local government data sharing is very effective. Over half of the respondents state that the federal government does an ineffective job in sharing data. In contrast, just under half of respondents agree that state and local governments are also ineffective in sharing data.
  1. Roughly half of Americans think that open data will improve government.
That is good news, but that also means that half of the respondents think that [open data]( will not improve government. Specifically, 49% think that open data will improve government services while an equal percentage think that open data will have no effect on the delivery of government services.

So, the good news is that most Americans use the Internet or apps to access government information, and many are comfortable conducting online transactions with the government. Government data is also effectively being used by third party developers to create widely-adopted apps and fuel the app economy. The Pew report demonstrates through past surveys that Americans are increasingly becoming more comfortable transacting business with the government through the Internet and apps.

Even so, as the last two findings show, there is much more work to convince Americans of the promise of government open data. Local and state government seem to be more effective with open data apps so maybe they can help improve federal apps. It would also be helpful to remind Americans how government open data fuels their favorite commercial apps. Finally, app developers can learn best practices from app developers who create government recreational information apps and state/local government apps that provide common government services such as renewing drivers’ licenses.

The Pew survey demonstrates that government apps have come a long way, but there are still many challenges ahead. I am certain that government open data providers and app developers will fulfill the still unrealized potential of government open data and apps.*API – Application Programming Interface; how software programs and databases share data and functions with each other. Check out APIs in Government for more information. Each week, “The API Briefing” will showcase government APIs and the latest API news and trends. Visit this column every week to learn how government APIs are transforming government and improving government services for the American people. If you have ideas for a topic or have questions about APIs, please contact me via email. All opinions are my own and do not reflect the opinions of the USDA and GSA.