By: Gianluigi Cuccureddu
The European Commission (EC) has launched a new open data strategy that will see a vast number of datasets owned by public authorities released to the public. The EC anticipates that the data will see businesses make money from new smart phone apps that may include maps, real-time traffic information or price comparison tools for example. The strategy is expected to boost to the EU’s economy by €40 billion each year.
The idea behind open data is that “certain data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control” according to Wikipedia.
From a public perspective Local Government describes open data as:
The idea behind open data is that information held by government should be freely available to use and re-mix by the public. It’s a movement to make non-personal data:
- open so that it can be turned into useful applications
- support transparency and accountability
- make sharing data between public sector partners more efficient.
Importance of open data
The Duke University on the importance of open data:
But there are good reasons to make more data more open more often. A 2009 report from the National Academy of Sciences titled “Ensuring the Integrity, Accessibility, and Stewardship of Research Data in the Digital Age” makes the case this way:
The advance of knowledge is based on the open flow of information. Only when a researcher shares data and results with other researchers can the accuracy of the data, analyses, and conclusions be verified. Different researchers apply their own perspectives to the same body of information, which reduces the bias inherent in individual perspectives. Unrestricted access to the data used to derive conclusions also builds public confidence in the processes and outcomes of research. Furthermore, scientific, engineering, and medical research is a cumulative process. New ideas build on earlier knowledge, so that the frontiers of human understanding continually move outward.
Researchers use each other’s data and conclusions to extend their own ideas, making the total effort much greater than the sum of the individual efforts.
Openness speeds and strengthens the advance of human knowledge.” (p. 59)
EC’s open data strategy
Neelie Kroes, Commission vice president said:
“We are sending a strong signal here…Your data is worth more if you give it away, so start releasing it now.”
“The EC will be releasing its own data for free, so let’s open up the rest of Europe’s public sector. Let’s deliver a single market for data-based products and services.”
Open data is general information that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone, either for free or for a marginal fee. Studies conducted on behalf of the European Commission show that industry and citizens still face difficulties in finding and re-using public sector information. However, some Member States, such as France and the United Kingdom, have already adopted policies of open data.
The new strategy aims to enable the exploitation of open data through three measures:
- the Commission will create a new ‘data portal’ to provide free access to its own data;
- a level playing field will be established for open data across the EU;
- €100 million will be provided to fund research into improved data-handling technologies during 2011-2013.
The Open Knowledge Foundation Blog recapped bits and pieces in Neelie Kroes’ talk, including:
- “The best way to get value from data is to give it away.”
- Exemplars include data.gov.uk, data.gouv.fr, Tim Berners-Lee, the Open Knowledge Foundation, OpenSpending.org and WheelMap.
- “Instead of needing complicated authorisations you will be automatically allowed to reuse the public data you need.”
- “Fees will be limited to marginal cost.” – If this means “marginal cost of reproduction” (which tends towards zero for digital material), and if this is enforced this will be a huge deal for open data and Public Sector Information in Europe!
- Mention of cultural heritage organisations – although data will not be free of cost except where institutions agree to this.
- “The revised Directive will need approval from the Parliament and the Council – […] but my real message is that Public Authorities do not need to wait for this package to become law, start this afternoon. You can give your data away now and generate revenue and jobs.” – I.e. the importance of ‘soft measures’ related to open data and PSI, not just ‘hard law’.
- “I also say to private business – open your data.” – A very important aside!
- “Lets join together and share our data. The outcome for everybody is more than when you keep it for yourself.” – Importance of individuals and organisations collaborating around public data.
A new report from consultancy Deloitte warns that significant challenges remain for the government around ownership, accountability and privacy. Deloitte head of analytics research, Harvey Lewis, told V3:
“There are clearly issues which need to be overcome, not least the public’s concern around privacy.
The debate needs to shift from being one about not sharing the public’s data to one where people understand the benefits of sharing aggregated view of data.
What the government is doing here is encouraging innovation and publication of data, which naturally begs the question, what is happening in the private sector? I would say there’s a case for private and public sector organisations coming together to form a collective where a great deal of good could be achieved by sharing data.”
What other challenges do you foresee with open data?
What are according to you areas where open data can play an important role?
By Gianluigi Cuccureddu
About the author:
Gianluigi Cuccureddu, contributing editor, is an experienced writer specializing in innovation, open business, new media and marketing. He is also Managing Partner of the 90:10 Group, a global Open Business consultancy, which helps clients open their activity directly and indirectly to external stakeholders through the use of social media, its data and technologies for the purpose of competitive advantages in marketing, service- and product innovation.