The impact of open data and technology-enabled transparency does not lie solely in the economic sphere. Government openness produces tremendous other benefits for our societies through increasing state or institutional responsiveness, reducing levels of corruption, building new democratic spaces for citizens, empowering local and disadvantaged voices or enhancing service delivery and effective service utilization. However, proof on the social and political impact of open data initiatives is incredibly scarce. This paper intends to tackle some of the methodological challenges through building evidence base that can empower further generalizations in the open government field; as well as developing a methodological framework to unpack theories of change and to evaluate the social impact of open data and digital transparency initiatives.
Assessing impact means we should be able to prove if there has been some kind of change in the ecosystem. Whether that change is “good” or “bad” will always depend on a normative position, while attribution is incredibly challenging – let alone impossible – for most open government projects. Therefore, the authors of this paper believe that focusing on mid-term outcomes as opposed to long-term impact or short-term output might be the right next step for the open data community in order to create a solid base for evaluation. The Outcome Mapping approach – as well as other robust evaluation methods – has a strong potential for the long-term evaluation of complex projects through detecting and documenting the desired change model in the behaviors, relationships and activities of people and organizations an open data initiative interacts with.