Open Data: The Process of Quality and Quantity

(This is part 3 of the analysis “Open Data for Beginners”, you can find out more here)

Opening data is a long process that has to be prepared for carefully. The first step is usually to identify the data sets that are in the possession of the public entity. If a public authority intends to share its institutional knowledge with the general public, it has the responsibility to do it in an effective and productive manner. OECD recommends

“balancing the need to provide timely official data with the need to deliver trustworthy data.”[1]

Open Government Partnership[2] members declare that they

“commit to proactively provide high-value information, including raw data, in a timely manner, in formats that the public can easily locate, understand and use, and in formats that facilitate reuse.”

In the Czech Republic, the law asks for released data to be machine-readable and the format of data and metadata to satisfy most open-format standards.[3] European Commission guidelines on the reuse of public sector information[4] contain several tips to increase the quality and quantity of delivered data sets. They should be“published online in their original, unmodified form to ensure timely release,” and the public office should ensure their completeness. The timely release of data is very often the crucial factor that determines the interest of potential users. Citizens want to have access to educational statistical data at the time that they are considering signing up a child for a specific school and not after the child has finished the education process.

Because the greatest potential of open data lies in mixing different kinds of information with each other (such as spatial information with crime statistics), the public office should also guarantee the inter-operability of data sets. Therefore, the European Commission recommends that agencies describe data sets in rich metadata formats,[5]which means to include the information on topics such as what the data content is, who collected or created the data and when, whether there were any changes or updates, and so on.

The EU Directive indicates that documents should be

“available in any pre-existing format or language, and, where possible and appropriate, in open and machine-readable format together with their metadata. The pre-existing format is often a synonym for raw data, which is “data collected which has not been subjected to processing or any other manipulation beyond that necessary for its first use.[6]

This means that data sets should be published in the same form as that they were created in. The user decides how the data will be used and for what. One must remember that presenting data in an attractive format (like an infographic) does not make it open. What makes data “open” is that raw data can be freely reused by others.

Usable by all

Open data is about sharing with the world the knowledge that is usually kept hidden in internal computer networks or somewhere on the shelves of public offices. But open data is not just about publishing data online and waiting until someone will read it. Sharing means that users have the opportunity to do what they like with the data and use it for what will serve their community best. According to the G8 Data Charter, “usable by all” means that public authorities should release data

“without bureaucratic or administrative barriers, such as registration requirements, which can deter people from accessing the data.

The other important aspect is to release data free of charge and in open formats. The latter, according to the EU Directive, means that

“a file format that is platform-independent and made available to the public without any restriction that impedes the re-use of documents.

In practice, the open format is a digital file standard that is free of charge and copyrights and that users can search, download, and use without buying special software.

One of the principles of open data is to include everyone in using and reusing the data. This means that data is released in machine-readable format, which means that it can be read, searched, and combined with other data sets mechanically. The other important aspect is to guarantee that data is easy to find. For example, in Bulgaria, public institutions must facilitate searching of public sector information introducing mechanisms for online access or by any other suitable means.[7]

According to the G8 Data Charter, open data also has a strong impact on innovation in the private sector. A Deloitte study[8] shows that opening data encourages a more open attitude in the business sector, which can use open data to inspire customer engagement. Without implementing open data principles such as open access, using machine-readable formats, and interoperability, this would not be possible.


 

[1] OECD Recommendation of the Council on Digital Government Strategies. Available at http://www.oecd.org/gov/public-innovation/Recommendation-digital-government-strategies.pdf.

[2]Available at http://www.opengovpartnership.org/about/open-government-declaration. (Accessed October 1, 2015.)

[3] Section 4b of the Amendment to the Act on Free Access to Information. Available at http://www.senat.cz/xqw/webdav/pssenat/original/76610/64407. (Accessed November 25, 2015.)

[4] Guidelines on Recommended Standard Licences, Datasets and Charging for the Re-use of Documents. European Commission Notice (2014/C 240/01). Available at https://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda/en/news/commission-notice-guidelines-recommended-standard-licences-datasets-and-charging-re-use. (Accessed October 1, 2015.)

[5] For more information on sufficient metadata, see https://github.com/project-open-data/G8_Metadata_Mapping https://github.com/project-open-data/G8_Metadata_Mapping. (Accessed October 1, 2015.)

[6] Glossary of Public Sector Information and Open Data Terminology. Available at https://data.gov.uk/glossary#letter_r. (Accessed October 1, 2015.)

[7] Art. 41d of the Decree No. 184.

[8] Open Data: Driving Growth, Ingenuity and Innovation. A Deloitte Analytics paper. Available at http://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/uk/Documents/deloitte-analytics/open-data-driving-growth-ingenuity-and-innovation.pdf (Accessed October 1, 2015.)