Open Data Principles for Beginners

With a great pleasure we’re introducing an analysis of what institutional openness and open data mean in practice, also from a legal point of view.  You can read the report on the website where we divided it into 5 parts:

  1. Legal Introduction to Openness and Open Public Data
  2. Open by Default and Permissible Restrictions for Open Data
  3. Open Data: The Process of Quality and Quantity
  4. Open Data: Where to Start (incl. tl;dr simple recommendations)
  5. Open Data for Anti-corruption and Public Participation

or just download the: Open Data Principles by Krzysztof Izdebski (please note: the structure of the PDF is slightly different from the presentation on the website the content however, doesn’t differ).

You can use this publication under the Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

Why did we prepare this analysis?

The recent civic technology (technology for better civic and public life) developments in the world heavily rely on data. Data helps us better understand the reality we function within, informs fact-based policies and when well analyzed allows us to see patterns, irregularities and intersections we would never think of. When analyzing civic technology for transparency and accountability, we shouldn’t forget about the open data system in the given country. Law provides the framework within which working with data is possible. Law is a structure of power. Analyzing and influencing legal system is one of the duties of the civil society.

The Intertwine

Freedom of Information (FOI) is commonly understood as a mechanism which contributes to anti-corruption struggles and ideas for enhancing public participation. FOI is a way in which we can obtain data. But what about the data itself? Open public data is a powerful tool and also a derivative of FOI. Without FOI, open data cannot deliver what it promises: the true freedom of information.

That is why this publication starts with Freedom of Information and then never lets it go. Because public open data and FOI are intrinsically related to each other. Even if FOI can exist (and often does) without open data, public open data in democracies, cannot exist without FOI. Together with the author of this publication we stand on the position that it is not just another e-service provided by the public bodies, but a next step in pursuing a fundamental human right to obtain and disseminate information, especially public information and data produced with public money.

In this publication we’re talking about the public open data only, as our main focus comes from transparency and accountability activists’ point of view. Open data held by public institutions is closely linked to open government, which is a wider term. It includes public participation and overall interactions with citizens (not only on-line). Yet again in this case when it comes to open government, open data is a natural thing to build upon.

Public open data (or open government data) as described by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) definition is

any data and information produced or commissioned by public bodies; Open data are data that can be freely used, re-used and distributed by anyone, only subject to (at the most) the requirement that users attribute the data and that they make their work available to be shared as well.

When we think public data we think documents, reports, registries, other databases, calendars, maps (geospatial information), timetables, real-time data about public transport and so on. But it’s also data on what is available and in what form including detailed meta-data.

The Definitions

Open Public Data it’s even more than data itself. It embraces legal and technical openness, which following the Open Definition is:

Legal openness: being allowed to get the data legally, to build on it, and to share it. Legal openness is usually provided by applying an appropriate (open) license which allows free access to and reuse of data or by placing data into the public domain.

Technical openness: there should be no technical barriers for using data. For example, providing data as printouts on paper (or as tables in PDF documents) makes the information extremely difficult to work with. The Open Definition has various requirements for “technical openness,” such as requiring that data would be machine readable and available in bulk. This way, a truly open public data is a data set that is basically ready for anybody to take it and do whatever they want with it.

For Whom

When meeting with activists and reformers in public bodies, the discussion about open data tends to avoid specifics, focusing on the general assumptions. With this publication we’re aiming at fulfilling the gap between general information and very specific, legally or technically oriented publications and websites, trying as much as possible to avoid jargon and giving examples, so the reader can easily find information where to start reforming the law or advocating for its reform.

We hope this will allow everybody, who is thinking about opening data in a public institution to have a checklist of where to start and where to head. We don’t speak of technical issues here, as they are secondary to the readiness and also a general openness strategy of a public institution.


About the author:

Krzysztof Izdebski is a Polish lawyer providing legal consultations on access to public information and re-use of public sector information, drafting legal opinions and representing NGO’s and other clients in court proceedings. He is also specialized in the legal aspects of the prevention of corruption. Currently he is a Local Research Correspondent for Poland in the European Commission Anti-Corruption project (Anti-Corruption report) that aims to improve anti-corruption policies in the member states. He is also a trainer in the field of combating and preventing corruption. Author of publications on freedom of information, conflicts of interest, corruption and ethical standards of NGO’s. He is also taking active role in the Coalition for the Open Government – informal body that is acting toward Poland’s participation in the Open Government Partnership. He was one of the authors of the report of the Coalition that describes where Poland is on its way to the Open Government.