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Practice

Open data

WHAT ARE OPEN DATA?

Open data are data that can be freely accessed, used and disseminated. They are not personal data but, as a rule, comprise administrative information like statistics, birth and death registry data, environmental and weather data, transport and traffic data, financial data, minutes and information on legislation and court decisions. As such, huge amounts of data are of interest and potential benefit to the public. They ensure transparency and greater participation and knowledge, and are of social and economic value. Open data can help achieve greater democracy, transparency, participation and cooperation, accountability, efficiency, effectiveness, profitability and knowledge generation, and can help in the fight against corruption. Besides having the data and compatible infrastructure and technology in place, a cultural paradigm shift towards transparency, participation and cooperation is also required.

WHY SHOULD DATA BE OPEN?

Open data are extremely useful for political, societal, administrative, economic and scientific bodies and purposes. When data sets are available, they can be processed by citizens, NGOs, data journalists, enterprises and other societal stakeholders to provide useful information. They can also be converted into infographics, video clips, interactive websites, an → app or other publications and made available to the public. Openness creates trust. It is particularly important to have a legal framework in place that protects against data misuse and data theft.

Open data have been shown to benefit many sectors. In public administration, data bundling and networking processes can be used to optimise processes and eliminate redundancies. Citizens can be provided with personalised information, participate in local decision-making processes and check government activities such as where tax revenues are being spent. Open Knowledge International has a project, which automatically collects all small-scale queries submitted to state parliaments and the German Bundestag. This makes it easier to find queries and responses, which can be searched for and interlinked. This enables the creation of an overview of topics from parliamentary work across federal states and creates transparency.

WHO MAKES DATA OPEN AND HOW?

Numerous manuals exist describing how governments, administrations and organisations can make their data open in an efficient, participatory, transparent and accountable way, in line with the principles of → open government (see below). Any move to an open data system must be accompanied by a strategy to open up communications, organisations and processes, which usually requires a long-term process of change in the public administration.

The following approach should be adopted in this context:

  • Actively include target and user groups (who know best which data sets are interesting and relevant).
  • Formulate strategic goals in advance (in accordance with any national Open Government strategies) and decide which data sets are to be made open first.
  • Issue open licences that grant users the greatest possible scope in handling data.
  • Offer open data, if possible, as raw data and in a machine-readable format, for downloading.

A recommendation from Open Knowledge International’s manual states, when making data open, an institution within the government body should be tasked with leading the process, developing a data catalogue and structuring it so that other ministries and state authorities can easily adjust and update their data.

WHERE DO RELIABLE DATA COME FROM?

Besides statistical surveys and registration processes, data are generated from a variety of sources in the digital world. In line with the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, most states in the world have undertaken to make publicly relevant information accessible to their citizens.

Worldwide, billions of bytes of data are generated daily through internet surfing, social media use (social networks), mobile communications, search engine queries, digital consumer behaviour and so on. These rapidly increasing digital data mountains (big data) belong to the service providers – most often private enterprises – that generate them. As the legal frameworks for data are often ambiguous, this ownership puts at risk the fundamental right of privacy and informational self-determination.

However, big data can also be used as open data for inclusive and sustainable development. For example, enterprises are increasingly donating data for scientific or planning purposes, such as in the fight against the Ebola virus or malaria. This offers potential for development. The lack of data that prevails in many places can be remedied using digital tools and through the concept of openness.

Open Government makes an important contribution to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: directly, by contributing to the achievement of SDGs 9, 16 and 17, and indirectly, by harnessing the potential of data collection for those working to achieve the SDGs.