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The Open Definition in context: putting open into practice

We’ve seen how the Open Definition can apply to data and content of many types published by many different kinds of organisation. Here we set out how the Definition relates to specific principles of openness, and to definitions and guidelines for different kinds of open data.

Why we need more than a Definition

The Open Definition does only one thing: as clearly and concisely as possible it defines the conditions for a piece of information to be considered ‘open’.

The Definition is broad and universal: it is a key unifying concept which provides a common understanding across the diverse groups and projects in the open knowledge movement.

At the same time, the Open Definition doesn’t provide in-depth guidance for those publishing information in specific areas, so detailed advice and principles for opening specific types of information – from government data, to scientific research, to the digital holdings of cultural heritage institutions – is needed alongside it.

For example, the Open Definition doesn’t specify whether data should be timely; and yet this is a great idea for many data types. It doesn’t make sense to ask whether census data from a century ago is “timely” or not though!

Guidelines for how to open up information in one domain can’t always be straightforwardly reapplied in another, so principles and guidelines for openness targeted at particular kinds of data, written specifically for the types of organisation that might be publishing them, are important. These sit alongside the Open Definition and help people in all kinds of data fields to appreciate and share open information, and we explain some examples here.

Principles for Open Government Data

In 2007 a group of open government advocates met to develop a set of principles for open government data, which became the “8 Principles of Open Government Data”.

In 2010, the Sunlight Foundation revised and built upon this initial set with their Ten Principles for Opening up Government Information, which have set the standard for open government information around the world. These principles may apply to other kinds of data publisher too, but they are specifically designed for open government, and implementation guidance and support is focused on this domain. The principles share many of the key aspects of the Open Definition, but include additional requirements and guidance specific to government information and the ways it is published and used. The Sunlight principles cover the following areas: completeness, primacy, timeliness, ease of physical and electronic access, machine readability, non-discrimination, use of commonly owned standards, licensing, permanence, and usage costs.

Tim Berners-Lee’s 5 Stars for Linked Data

In 2010, Web Inventor Tim Berners-Lee created his 5 Stars for Linked Data, which aims to encourage more people to publish as Linked Data – that is using a particular set of technical standards and technologies for making information interoperable and interlinked.

The first three stars (legal openness, machine readability, and non-proprietary format) are covered by the Open Definition, and the two additional stars add the Linked Data components (in the form of RDF, a technical specification).

The 5 stars have been influential in various parts of the open data community, especially those interested in the semantic web and the vision of a web of data, although there are many other ways to connect data together.

Principles for specific kinds of information

At the Open Knowledge Foundation many of our Working Groups have been involved with others in creating principles for various types of open data and fields of work with an open element. Such principles frame the work of their communities, set out best practice as well as legal, regulatory and technical standards for openness and data, and have been endorsed by many leading people and organisations in each field.

These include:

The Open Definition: the key principle powering the Global Open Knowledge Movement

All kinds of individuals and organisations can open up information: government, public sector bodies, researchers, corporations, universities, NGOs, startups, charities, community groups, individuals and more. That information can be in many formats – it may be spreadsheets, databases, images, texts, linked data, and more; and it can be information from any field imaginable – such as transport, science, products, education, sustainability, maps, legislation, libraries, economics, culture, development, business, design, finance and more.

Each of these organisations, kinds of information, and the people who are involved in preparing and publishing the information, has its own unique requirements, challenges, and questions. Principles and guidelines (plus training materials, technical standards and so on!) to support open data activities in each area are essential, so those involved can understand and respond to the specific obstacles, challenges and opportunities for opening up information. Creating and maintaining these is a major activity for many of the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Working Groups as well as other groups and communities.

At the same time, those working on openness in many different areas – whether open government, open access, open science, open design, or open culture – have shared interests and goals, and the principles and guidelines for some different data types can and do share many common elements, whilst being tailored to the specific requirements of their communities. The Open Definition provides the key principle which connects all these groups in the global open knowledge movement.

More about openness coming soon

Don’t miss our other posts about Defining Open Data, and exploring the Open Definition, why having a shared and agreed definition of open data is so important, and how one can go about “doing open data”.

  • Greg B

    Fantastic insight into openness. Working on an open data project right now, I feel the most important “knowledge” to have is that greater picture, the “theoretical” behind the actual work involved.

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