The world needs more Open Data Hero's – so lets get started

Victoria Maclennan
October 6, 2015

There aren’t enough Open Data Hero’s in the world yet and the first step in any Hero creation process is education and common understanding – What is Open Data, What Stops Open Data and What Data should be Open? Whether you already are / want to become an Open Data Hero or found this post because you are embarking on the journey of learning about Open Data please read on.

Context first

Before we start talking about Open Data specifically, let’s get us on the same page with what we mean by data. Data measures things of interest or things that are interesting, for instance People, Groups, Organisations, Processes and Spaces. Measuring at a basic level helps us gain insight and make informed decisions.
Open Data isn’t just government data. Governments do measure interesting things and hold a mandate for transparency within a democracy so there is pressure for government agencies to open datasets up for consumption but anyone with interesting data can conceivably make their dataset an Open Data one.

What is Open Data?

Open Data is data that can be freely used, reused and distributed by everyone.
Open Data does have some specific characteristics too –

  • Open Data is easy to find,
  • Open Data is easy to understand,
  • Open data is safe to use, it’s can’t identify individuals for instance and if we need to reuse that data we can do so without breaking any rules, and
  • Open Data is maintained.

Open Data can increase transparency, release social and commercial value it can also increase citizen participation and engagement. There are many excellent resources on the uses and benefits of Open Data worthy reviewing:

What stops Open Data?

Policy and politics aside the real barriers in the Open Data Movement are people and their lack of understanding represented as barriers. We love Open Data and find ourselves engaging in discussions with many persona’s who like to challenge the notion of opening up data. Open Data Hero’s can arm themselves with language and examples to help those who don’t share our perspective, to understand the real benefits of Open Data.
Here is an overview of 7 different persona’s we have encountered in our Open Data journey:

  1. The Denier – often has no idea what’s even possible, has no idea where to begin and is overwhelmed by the size of the Open Data opportunity. We can help them by connecting the denier with resources and advocates within our communities, here in NZ and the Open Data team at LINZ for instance.
  2. The Smug “wannabe” – this person thinks they are an Open Data Hero because they have shared some data on a website, it’s not maintained and isn’t easy for humans or machines to interact with so we can help by educating them on the few additional steps they could take to really open this data for use.
  3. The Big Spender – thinks Open Data is a problem to be solved by buying new tools and technology. To share Open Data we need to invest in decision making and governance processes, reinventing the wheel and buying “stuff” won’t necessarily create a toolkit for every citizen to engage with.
  4. The Possessive – like Gollum this person thinks data is precious and should be locked away. Locking data away will lead to excessive use of the Official Information Act and nobody enjoys that! We can help the Gollums of this world by sharing examples of transformative projects enhanced through the use of Open Data. Start with this Video – What Open Data can do for you.
  5. The Capitalist – small business owners like myself are often accused of being capitalists, the reality is I’m not and neither are most of my peers. There are, however, a few who lack imagination and see opportunities to turn any data they lay their hands on into cash. Open Data can create value through other mechanisms such as unlocking innovation – check out the Australia/NZ Govthack site for some great innovation initiatives possible through Open Data use.
  6. The Communist – some people as an article of faith believe nobody should make money out of data leading to their fear of commercial initiatives leveraging Open Data sets. The reality is many businesses – especially large ones like banks, marketing companies, loyalty schemes, global consulting firms – are already making money from our data. Open Data can improve both economic and social outcomes. Often quoted is this McKinsey report on the potential value of Open Data, $3 Trillion is a figure I struggle to get my head around.
  7. The Fear-Monger – this person provides a seemingly well informed argument and politically powerful message (front page of the newspaper fear test for instance) posing Open Data as a threat to privacy and/or security. Remember our definition from earlier – Open Data is safe. We don’t want data that exposes individuals we want aggregated data opened.

What Data to Open?

To my last question – what data should we open? To be clear some data should never be open data for valid privacy and safety reasons. Other data could be transformative if opened – data that identifies trends for instance. We often hear opponents of open data claim that the demands of those asking for data to become open are unreasonable – to be fair this is sometimes true – so building on existing classification mechanisms is a great way to start identification of data that is “Open Data Ready” for your organisation.
We use a simple traffic light system when considering which data to open and start with the Green first.


All of this does lead to the thorny question of How – a topic for another blog. Three resources to help you get started until that next blog post worth checking out are:

  • – the place to find existing, or publish new NZ Government Open Datasets, there is even a place to request data you are interested in
  • – a site where existing open datasets are published as charts everyone can understand
  • – an initiative our own Shaun McGirr has launched in his spare time to make open data ready for researchers with minimal fuss

There is also a series of talks on in my hometown of Wellington at the moment (October 2015) called the Open Data Spring Series, this blog coupled with the slides shared below were the basis for my talk on “What is Open Data” last week.
More for Open Data Hero’s to come from the OptimalBI team very soon. Happy sharing, Vic.
[slideshare id=53523818&doc=optimalbi-introductiontoopendata-151004210101-lva1-app6891]

Victoria spends much of her time focusing on Digital Inclusion, Digital Literacy and Digital Rights.  

You can read her OptimalBI blogs here, or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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