Open Data attempts to be accessible simply through being made available, but this does not guarantee that data is or will be, used by those who might see it as valuable. There are a whole host of reasons why individuals might not actually make use of Open Data. Almost all of those who regularly work with data are a part of the “Open Data Movement.”
The “Open Data Movement”
The Open Data movement loosely means the global trend toward opening data, as well as the momentum and advocacy that occurs by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), municipalities, and countries shifting toward releasing data in an open manner. The Open Data Barometer describes this as the “global movement to make government ‘open by default’” (Open Data Barometer, 2015; Open Government, 2016).
Many different stakeholders participate in the open data movement, such as:
- Individual Citizens, through using services or websites that make use of Open Data, making their own projects, or through being the subject that some of the data is about
- Non-profit organizations or Charities (especially those in a development context), similar to individuals, through using services, making use of open data for their own work, or having their activities serve as the information in an open data set
- Philanthropic organizations or foundations, through funding and supporting the work of other organizations or communities seeking to use technology to address challenges
- Municipal, Regional and National Governments, through releasing open data on their portals
- Universities or Research Institutes, through researching the impact of open data in communities and cities, or through releasing their own research information in an open manner
- Technology Startups or Companies, through developing products that rely upon open data for core functionality
- Journalists, through data-driven storytelling to allow individuals to understand their communities (Hamilton, 2015)
A stakeholder just means any individual person, organization, or group that has an interest or concern related to the matter at hand. Open Data Monitor research identifies “government, business and citizens… as the three key constituencies (stakeholders) in a successful open data ecosystem” (“The Open Data Ecosystem and its Stakeholders”, 2016).
What Open Data can and has been able to achieve rests largely in the hands of the key players and influential stakeholders of the movement. The primary stakeholders of the Open Data Movement are businesses, governments, and citizens. That being said, many of the decisions regarding the opening of data are made by key players in the field. These players are more likely to be various levels of government (national, provincial, regional, or municipal); businesses including start-ups, investors, or banks; academic and scientific institutions; advocacy groups; and politicians. According to OpenDataMonitor, the primary players in the Open Data Movement begin with the data generators themselves, who possess significant power through their decisions to disclose or retain data. Second, support units such as legal counsel or data platforms also provide essential input. Such units may not have a stake in the data themselves, but their expertise in liability, privacy, security and licensing is usually highly regarded. Third, data users were identified as key players since their analysis and understanding of open data can make it accessible to citizens. Fourth, politicians also play a crucial role in setting the agenda regarding open data, as their support is regarded as crucial. Finally, advocacy groups similarly claim significant legitimacy through their expertise and mobilization. Most importantly, many advocacy groups continuously tie the topic of open data to democratic goals and values, and contribute to the dissemination of the Open Data Movement to the public (OpenDataMonitor, 2015).
Companies Use of Open Data
Companies are using open data in a variety of ways. As more publishers release data in an open manner, new companies are emerging that rely on open published data as a central part of the products they build or services they offer.
OpenCorporates is a company that collects and publishes data about businesses and corporate entities around the work. They aim to have a web address (Uniform Resource Locator or URL) for every company in the world, bringing together and matching different sources of government information on corporations. OpenCorporates displays user contributed information alongside underlying open data, providing a platform that could help with various accountability initiatives. All of this information is made available in various open file formats through their API.
Open Data Around the World
One way you can compare what is happening with Open Data in different countries is to use the Open Data Index produced by the Open Knowledge Foundation (2016). In 2015 it ranked 122 countries, assigning a percentage score based on performance across a typology containing 13 datasets. The criteria for each type is much the same as those conditions forOpenness and Data discussed above. It provides a global perspective on Canada’s Open Data efforts! From a global policy perspective, the Open Government Partnership was launched in 2011 to link up national open government efforts.
Open Data for Development
One context where open data has had a big impact is in global development, known as “Open Development.” Recently, organizations like the World Bank have been making the data collected as part of the initiatives they fund freely available (The World Bank Group, 2016). Multi-stakeholder projects like Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN, n.d.), which focuses on food security— have emerged to support the processes of proactive sharing of data to meet development goals. Another initiative, Open Data for Development (OD4D), is solely focused on promoting open data through its implementation by a network of organizations around the world.
In 2015, a World Bank report listed the benefits of open data for sustainable development. These included economic growth and job creation through job-matching platforms and foreign investment analysis; improved efficiency of public services by, for example, matching patients with healthcare or providing online education; increased government transparency and citizen participation through online access to contracts and other government documents; and better information sharing to help improve public transportation or better manage disaster relief.
Interestingly, many of these benefits emphasize the opening of government data rather than businesses, and include little about direct environmental benefits. The true abilities of open data for sustainability can be hindered by the lack of calls for businesses, rather than governments and other non-profits, to make their data available for re-use. Nevertheless, many grass-roots projects using open data have been leading efforts toward a sustainable future. Some of these include the use of satellite images to map renewable sources of energy, cyclists monitoring urban air quality, or tracking deforestation using crowdsourcing.
The United Nations 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (successor to the Millennium Development Goals) are a set of 17 goals and 169 related targets. Alongside the development of the goals themselves, the UN and World Bank have already identified key ways that Open Data will play a role in evaluating whether these goals are met.
Risks of Open Data
The widespread use of open data is relatively new, and there isn’t a lot of information about what risks and consequences could emerge. Much of what is currently released, if handled properly, is aggregated information that taken alone cannot identify specific individuals. However, certain types of open data covers topics that are sensitive: crime in communities (Hand, 2012) or access of community services like food banks. If this data is represented in a certain way, or tied to a location, it may create additional barriers for reporting or accessing services.
Worse, data is not always released according to best practices. Sometimes, as was the case at the 2015 Urban Hack event in Bangalore, datasets are made public with unclear ownership or licenses, and may even violate individual’s privacy and security by releasing personal information (Thompson, 2016). Not only do practitioners and citizens need to ensure that data is anonymized, but they must take care to ensure that OD sets cannot be used to re-identify people by taking appropriate measures (Eman, 2016).
Beyond the individual data level, there are risks in the Open Data movement itself: most dangerous the potential to re-entrench a digital divide, leaving behind individuals or whole communities that don’t currently have the skills or literacies required to make use of data being collected about them (for more, see Who does Open Data benefit?).