It’s best served raw Un-spun govt data, mixed with IT, yields rewarding solutions

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It’s best served raw

Un-spun govt data, mixed with Internet technologies, often yields solutions that are instantly rewarding for societies

Forward-thinking governments have been turning to open data as a way of increasing  transparency and for adding economic and social value to the information they hold. This is
leading to development of new kinds of interaction between the state and the society. But what is open data? Does open government data (OGD) really matter? What are the big ideas in the current debate and what are the opportunities that lie ahead? statistics and messages that governments usually publish and the raw, un-spun source data behind, most of which is never seen. Berners- Lee’s message is to release “raw data now” because raw data made open, as we’ll see, is tremendously useful. If you find a Website that’s full of public datasets in open, standard formats all licensed to encourage use and innovation, chances are it’s an OGD portal such as the USA’s or the UK’s Freedom to push and right to pull When discussing government transparency In the developed world, government data includes  nformation on budgets, demographics,  ducation, and public services, typically ith geographic and historical detail. The Open Knowledge Definition states that this data is open if it can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone. OGD expert David Eaves builds on this: data needs to be findable (clearly published and indexed by search engines), usable (available in a sensible format) and shareable (licensed appropriately). Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the  orld
Wide Web and vocal open data advocate, notes the distinction between the carefully curated OPEN DATA TECHNOLOGY
ecember 2010 / / egov 35 and openness, the freedom of information
(FOI) laws usually come to mind. The Open Data Study published as part of the Open Society
Foundations’ Transparency and Accountability Initiative, is an excellent primer on the subject as a whole. It can be found on www. On FOI laws, the study notes, “There is a gap between initiatives that are based on governments giving out things that they want to give out, and governments creating rights that mean that they give things out all the time that they may be don’t want to give out.”  ith FOI, if I want information, I have a legal right to request for it and to expect a response from someone in the government. With open data, there’s typically no legal right, but the government is proactively disclosing data and putting it online in a form that is findable, usable  d shareable by anyone at any time. This data is published on OGD portals from the international to the hyper-local level; that’s when thepublic’s interaction with it begins. Why does OGD matter?  Opening up government data multiples its economic and social value when it is made freely accessible to the public. This is the heart of Tim O’Reilly’s vision of government as a platform. This idea revolves around the theory that by opening up its data, the state is able to improve the way problems are dealt  with at a city, state, national or international level. In this way, the state should be a  onvener and an enabler of the civic action, that can take place when modern Internet  technologies are combined with government-provided data.  Now, even in Europe and North America  where OGD initiatives have been making progress for much of the past decade, the idea of government as a platform still seems a little abstract. For those starting to think about OGD, there will immediately be concerns around the risks of releasing data in the first place, and inevitably, reasons for not doing so. The risks of releasing data At the CeBIT Australia Gov 2.0 Conference this year, Andrew Scott, the UK’s outgoing  Director of Digital Engagement led a workshop that had participants listing the top reasons for not releasing government data. To some, these reasons read more like excuses with readilyworkable solutions, but any new OGD initiative  will need to address the issues they raise. My favourites from the list include:  “There’s no business case,” “We’re unsure about data quality,” “They can FOI it” and “It’s not  n a useful format.” Let’s consider these for a moment.  The business case is simple for a  overnment  with electronic data: the marginal cost of distributing  it is zero, and its free    vailability leads  to economically and socially beneficial innovation.  Examples include using  road accident   data to produce a map of the most dangerous  cycle routes in the UK; a site  heyworkforyou.  com providing British citizens with detailed   information on their   oliticians, and a study  of how openly available tax records saved  Canada $3.2 billion offer a  lavour of what has   already been achieved.  A proven way of improving the quality of closed   ata is to open it to public scrutiny.   From that point onwards, knowing it will always be   penly available is a powerful  incentive to improve the quality of data as it is  produced, and    deed, to think about the policies and actions that have shaped it. A similar behavioural   hange occurs when it comes to the format used to publish data. Berners-Lee discusses the idea   f a five-star rating system for open data. A first step can be as simple as putting data  online in   y format—spreadsheets, images or PDFs. This act, if successful, involves overcoming  key  social and political barriers and paves the  way for using more sophisticated, standardised, machine-readable interlinked data formats.  Thinking global and acting local The individual actions of governments play a collective role in regional and global issues.  It follows that  governments could mutually benefit from opening their data. For example, The International  id Transparency Initiative  (IATI) involves bilateral and multilateral donors, as  ell as recipient countries publishing  the details of aid funding in an open, standard format.  his has the effect of making aid  more effective by making it easier to administer, reducing the risk of diversion and improving  coordination between donors. While the focus of   GD was initially on national-level data, it is data on local services  and government  institutions that shows the  most promise. This hyperlocal data, when  timely, tangible and  eographical, helps people  to engage with the parts of government that  most affect their daily  ives.  Data is necessary but not  sufficient Tim Davies at the Oxford Internet Institute  authored the report ‘Open data, democracy and public sector reform,’ which tries to rebalance  the OGD debate towards civic, over technological  or economic concerns. The report  notes, “Data is not just for developers—direct access to trusted facts is valuable for   any individuals in society; OGD changes the information  gatekeepers—individuals, companies, the media and different parts of government  can each advance their own interpretations of  data; and OGD supports innovation in public   services with social and commercial  entrepreneurs playing a central role.”  It’s still early days for OGD. There are impressive   xamples of what is already possible  hen governments make finding, using  and sharing their  data easy for the public.  here’s a mature debate around the initial risks  and ongoing rewards  of OGD initiatives, as well as high-profile open data portals, conferences  and community  groups. My worry is the risk of viewing open data  and the technology around it as an end in itself. It can be a big task and a significant cultural  change for a government to start  releasing  ood data across the board, but without  the additional work of supporting citizens to use it, it might amount to little more than a  olitical gesture. Taking a focused approach, by   leasing the most asked for data first and  gaging with the demand from users, may be a better  ption. In this age, if the goal is to make a nation  prosper and to improve the lives of its  citizens, open data is necessary, but it’s the action people take when empowered by the  nformation  they hold that’s important

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