Open data – social or commercial opportunity?

Rumours of imminent government announcements about what local government will be ‘required’ to publish have prompted me to write up some of the goings-on in recent weeks.

While I’ve been focusing on DataBridge assessments with our six lovely groups in the last two weeks, I have also been venturing further into open data territory including an Open Data Master Class run by Horizon Digital Research Centre at Nottingham Uni, a session aimed at public and voluntary sectors.

Some of the headline issues that were raised in the morning that struck a chord for me were:

Open Data is not just for developers (referenced to the very wise Tim Davies) – I say this all the time. If public sector organisations exist essentially for social good then surely they should be focusing on how Open Data can be used to created social benefit, innovation and impact?  The commercialapplications will happen of their own accord and in my view it’s not something that government should take an active role in stimulating beyond simply making data available. Social applications on the other hand do require stimulation. There is a very different sort of market for these and we are making a lot of assumptions about the power of open data to result in better services. These need to be tested and proven before the monetary case for social applications is proven, in the meantime we must stimulate and explore social uses of open data such as improving service planning and commissioning decision.

Empowering the empowered, creating a Data Divide and questions of Data Literacy – these are all variations on the theme of access and links back to my point about the market for social applications of Open Data. This is one of the reasons why I tend to put myself in the ‘you have to think about what data you release and how’ camp rather than the ‘release everything you have right now’ camp. As a later presenter pointed out:

“Information is a source of learning. But unless it is organized, processed, and available to the right people in a format for decision making, it is a burden, not a benefit”                                                                                          (William Pollard, 1996)

One of the main aims of DataBridge is to understand and be able to start to address the access issues to using Open Data within the voluntary sector. We have chosen to begin with what organisations do now, and what their ambitions are for use of data, and to use this as the driving force behind work on capacity in the sector and to drive work with local government on how to release Open Data and to develop broad-based City-wide knowledge.

The telling thing is that in spite of all of these challenges we are still assuming that open data is A Good Thing and that it should be encouraged and pursued.

Headings above cribbed from presentations by Dr Hanif Rahemtulla and Ewa Luger of University of Nottingham, and are just a few of the points made. Full presentation pack can be seen at:

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