Support Us

You are browsing the archive for Open Data.

Announcing the Local Open Data Census

Rufus Pollock - February 4, 2014 in Featured, Open Data, Open Data Census

Let’s explore local open data around the world!

Local data is often the most relevant to citizens on a daily basis – be it rubbish collection times, local tax rates or zoning information. However, at the moment it’s difficult to know which key local datasets are openly available and where. Now, you can help change that.

We know there is huge variability in how much local data is available not just across countries but within countries, with some cities and municipalities making major open data efforts, while in others there’s little or no progress visible. If we can find out what open data is out there, we can encourage more cities to open up key information, helping businesses and citizens understand their cities and making life easier.

We’ve created the Local Open Data Census to survey and compare the progress made by different cities and local areas in releasing Open Data. You can help by tracking down Open Data from a city or region where you live or that you’re interested in. All you need to do is register your interest and we’ll get your Local Open Data Census set up and ready to use.

Get in touch about surveying open data in your city or region »

census

Investigate your local open data on Open Data Day

Open Data Day is coming – it’s on 22 February 2014 and will involve Open Data events around the world where people can get involved with open data. If you’re organising an open data event, why not include a Census-a-thon to encourage people to track down and add information about their city?

A Local Open Data Census for your city will help:

  • new people learn about open data by exploring what’s available and relevant to them;
  • you compare open data availability in your city with other cities in your country;
  • local government identify data that local people and businesses are interested in using;
  • and more data get opened up everywhere!

It’s really easy to contribute to an Open Data Census: there’s lots of documentation for them and a truly global community creating and using them. A City Census is a great way to get involved with open data for the first time, as the information is about things city residents really care about. Or if you’re more interested in regions, counties or states, you can take part a regional Census. (Some countries will have both regional and city Censuses, because of the way their local government information is organised.)

Sign up now to ensure your city and country have a Local Open Data Census up and running before Open Data Day, and let’s see how much open data about open data we can create this month! We’ll have more tips on how to run a successful Census-a-thon coming soon.

Register your interest in a local census

The history behind the Local Open Data Census

In 2012 we started an Open Data Census to track the state of country-level open data around the world. The 2013 results published as the first ever Open Data Index last Autumn covered 700 datasets across 70 countries, and have already proved useful in driving open data release around the world. We’re looking forward to updating the Census for 2014 later this year.

However, a lot of data that is most relevant to citizens’ everyday lives is at the local level. That’s why last year we ran a separate pilot, to measure release of open data at the local, city level – the City Open Data Census. We’ve learnt a lot from the experience and from the community who used the pilot, and we are now ready to offer a full Local Open Data Census to everyone, everywhere.

You can find out more on the new Census “Meta” site »

Local partners

Census surveys of cities and regions will be run on a country-by-country basis, managed locally with local groups or other organisations. In the United States, we’re pleased to be collaborating with the Sunlight Foundation and Code for America. They are running a series of events for Open Data Day, CodeAcross (links here and here), including the city census for the US.

[Sunlight Foundation] [Code for America]

And there’s more: Topical Open Data Censuses

We also know that people will want to run their own specific Open Data Censuses focused on particular topics or datasets. If you’ve been wondering about the openness of pollution data, legal information, public finances or any other topic, we can set up a special Census to survey the datasets you care about, on a national or regional scale.

A Topical Census uses the platform built for the Open Data Census to run a similar, customised census, and publish the results in a simple and visually appealing way. The questionnaires, responses and results can be hosted by the Open Knowledge Foundation, so you don’t have to worry about the technical side. If you are interested in running a Topical Open Data Census, get in touch with the Census team.

Note that we expect quite a bit of demand for local Censuses in the next few weeks. We will prioritise requests for Topical Censuses from groups who have more people ready to get involved, such as existing networks, working groups or interest groups around the topic, so please let us know a little about yourselves when you get in touch.

Myanmar – Developing a Knowledge Society from Scratch

Guest - January 23, 2014 in Featured, Open Data, Open Knowledge Foundation Local Groups

This is a guest post by Waltraut Ritter from Knowledge Dialogues and Opendata Hong Kong/Open Knowledge Foundation Hong Kong, who recently visited Myanmar as basis for this interesting account. She can be contacted on waltraut(a)opendatahk(dot)com.

Print

New cars, new mobiles – photo by Waltraut Ritter, CC BY-SA


The Worldbank Knowledge Economy Index ranks Myanmar as second lowest among 157 countries across all key variables relating to ICT, innovation, education and economic incentive/institutional regime; Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perception Index lists Myanmar in the bottom group of countries, and the most recent Internet World Statistics (2012) shows that internet penetration is around 1%, although with the entry of two international telecom operators, Telenor and Ooredoo, rolling out voice and data services nationwide starting this month, these figures are expected to move up fast.

Foundation for a knowledge society?

The growth of internet access in Myanmar will predominantly be mobile internet access. 7% of the population use mobile phones; the lowest cost for an Android smartphone (with Myanmar font) is 60-70 USD and a SIM card with data services cost between 5 and 130 USD, depending on the channel through which one gets access to a SIM. Huawei’s smartphones are the market leader at the moment, followed by Samsung. With the opening of the country in the past 2-3 years, what are the prospects for building the foundations for a knowledge society?

Technology as a catalyst – and threat

Recent reports and studies about Myanmar (ADB 2012, Cheesman 2012, McKinsey 2013) describe the backwardness of everything related to information, from information laws, information access, ICT infrastructure to internet governance. Building the soft infrastructure, capacity, skills and mindset is another challenge. Nwe Nwe Aye says that the government in Myanmar is still heavily circumscribed by secrecy and lack of transparency, and that there is “no sense of political rule as a participative process”* The culture of an authoritarian society is hard to throw off, and technology may act as a catalyst, but there are quite a few countries with excellent ICT infrastructure and non-existing or low civic rights and public transparency as well.

Reporters without Borders and the Burma Media Association claim that “the structure of the new Burmese Internet as modified in 2010 gives the authorities more surveillance options, while reserving the fastest and best-quality access for the government and military”. They say that Burma’s use of Blue Coat technologies (the Silicon Valley tech company providing internet censorships equipment and services such as Deep Packet inspection) in government agencies raises questions about internet filtering policy and surveillance.

Print

Phone at Yangon Railway Station – photo by Waltraut Ritter, CC BY-SA

Private sector investments to drive open data?

The Asian Development Bank (ADB), which resumed operations in Myanmar in 2013, is advising the government on ICT strategy and public administration reform. Following their tender for the development of an e-Governance Master Plan, it was just announced a few days ago that IT services provider Infosys will be appointed as advisor for the 1.5m USD project, which also includes a six month training for 100 engineering students. Building ICT capacity is the basis for information and data management across the public sector, and also the basis for any Open Data initiative. All major global tech companies are preparing their investment plans for the country, many of them coupled with education or civil society collaborations.

Very active civil society and library infrastructure

Myanmar has an active civil society working on various aspects of information society, from press freedom to civic-driven public libraries, such as Beyond Access, an organization that aims to transform the country’s vast network of 5000 public libraries into connected information and service hubs, MIDO (Myanmar ICT development organization, which organized the first internet freedom forum in Yangon last year), and the Myanmar Blogger Society, which now collaborates with telecom provider Ooredoo. These networks and organisations could play an important role in building the soft infrastructure of the future information society.

Wikimedia Zero provides charge-free mobile access to global knowledge

Another initiative with potentially wide reach is the introduction of Wikimedia Zero, whereby the Wikimedia Foundation through a partnership with Telenor, gives free access to the “sum of human knowledge” (Jimmy Wales) without incurring data usage charges.

Print

School girls at National Museum – photo by Waltraut Ritter, CC BY-SA

Revising Internet governnance legislation is necessary

The legal side of Myanmar’s information and internet governance also needs to be reformed. Currently there exist a number of outdated but still valid laws, such as the “Burma Official Secrets Act” from 1932, instated by the British Colonial regime, which is part of the ongoing discussions on constitutional reform ahead of the 2015 elections. (http://wvw.burmalibrary.org/docs15/Burma_Code-Vol-II-ocr-tu.pdf, p182-189). This year, however, there is a great opportunity to introduce open data initiatives in Myanmar: the country is conducting its first nationwide census in 31 years. Supported by UN organisations, the data collection will take place in March and April, and provide a sound basis for all further socio-economic development.

Reliable information has been a scarce resource in the past decades, and the country data compiled by various international organisations such as UNDP, ITU, and Worldbank has many gaps or only shows estimates, e.g. the figures of the country’s population range between 52 and 64 million. Data about livelihood, economy, and exact size of the many ethnic groups in the country is vague. The latter is widely discussed in the media in the preparation of the census http://www.mmfreedom-daily.com/?p=13669. Ethnic groups are worried that the census survey may not reflect the real size of the different groups due to classification problems.

Global open data community needs to engage

For the Open Data community, engaging with Myanmar government, public sector organisations, and civil society, could help to build an inclusive knowledge society, where the benefits of data, information and knowledge are available for all. Such an engagement would certainly not be a short-term project.

*in: Nick Cheesman et. al. (ed.) Myanmar’s Transition: Openings, Obstacles and Opportunities. ISEAS Singapore 2012

Thanks to Htaike Htaike Aung of MIDO (Myanmar ICT for Development Organisation) for information on internet governance.

Extended: Open Data Scoping Terms of Reference

Heather Leson - December 31, 2013 in Open Data, Open Data Partnership For Development

The Open Data Partnership for Development Scoping Terms of Reference deadline has been extended until January 13, 2014. We have received some great submissions and want to give more people the best opportunity to tackle the project. Truly, we recognize that the holiday season is a busy time.

The Open Data Partnership for Development Scoping Terms of Reference opened on December 11, 2013 and will close on January 13, 2014 at 17:00 GMT.

Updated Open Data Partnership for Development – Scoping Terms of Reference

Help us get a current state Open Data Activity snapshot to guide our decisions for the Open Data Partnership for Development programmes. Proposals for a Scoping Analysis will address two objectives:

  • (i) identify potential funders and the key delivery partners in the Open Data ecosystem, and
  • (ii) map the existing efforts to support open data in developing countries and their status.

More about Open Data Partnership for Development

Happy New Year.

“Share, improve and reuse public sector data” – French Government unveils new CKAN-based data.gouv.fr

Guest - December 26, 2013 in CKAN, OKF France, Open Data, Open Government Data

This is a guest post from Rayna Stamboliyska and Pierre Chrzanowski of the Open Knowledge Foundation France

Etalab, the Prime Minister’s task force for Open Government Data, unveiled on December 18 the new version of the data.gouv.fr platform (1). OKF France salutes the work the Etalab team has accomplished, and welcomes the new features and the spirit of the new portal, rightly summed up in the website’s baseline, “share, improve and reuse public sector data”.

OKF France was represented by Samuel Goëta at the data.gouv.fr launch event OKF France was represented at the data.gouv.fr launch event by Samuel Goëta in the presence of Jean-Marc Ayrault, Prime Minister of France, Fleur Pellerin, Minister Delegate for Small and Medium Enterprises, Innovation, and the Digital Economy and Marylise Lebranchu, Minister of the Reform of the State. Photo credit: Yves Malenfer/Matignon

Etalab has indeed chosen to offer a platform resolutely turned towards collaboration between data producers and re-users. The website now enables everyone not only to improve and enhance the data published by the government, but also to share their own data; to our knowledge, a world first for a governmental open data portal. In addition to “certified” data (i.e., released by departments and public authorities), data.gouv.fr also hosts data published by local authorities, delegated public services and NGOs. Last but not least, the platform also identifies and highlights other, pre-existing, Open Data portals such as nosdonnees.fr (2). A range of content publishing features, a wiki and the possibility of associating reuses such as visualizations should also allow for a better understanding of the available data and facilitate outreach efforts to the general public.

We at OKF France also welcome the technological choices Etalab made. The new data.gouv.fr is built around CKAN, the open source software whose development is coordinated by the Open Knowledge Foundation. All features developed by the Etalab team will be available for other CKAN-based portals (e.g., data.gov or data.gov.uk). In turn, Etalab may more easily master innovations implemented by others.

The new version of the platform clearly highlights the quality rather than quantity of datasets. This paradigm shift was expected by re-users. On one hand, datasets with local coverage have been pooled thus providing nation-wide coverage. On the other hand, the rating system values datasets with the widest geographical and temporal coverage as well as the highest granularity.

Screenshot from data.gouv.fr home page

The platform will continue to evolve and we hope that other features will soon complete this new version, for example:

  • the ability to browse data by facets (data producers, geographical coverage or license, etc.);
  • a management system for “certified” (clearly labelled institutional producer) and “non-certified” (data modified, produced, added by citizens) versions of a dataset;
  • a tool for previewing data, as natively proposed by CKAN;
  • the ability to comment on the datasets;
  • a tool that would allow to enquire about a dataset directly at the respective public administration.

Given this new version of data.gouv.fr, it is now up to the producers and re-users of public sector data to demonstrate the potential of Open Data. This potential can only be fully met with the release of fundamental public sector data as a founding principle for our society. Thus, we are still awaiting for the opening of business registers, detailed expenditures as well as non-personal data on prescriptions issued by healthcare providers.

Lastly, through the new data.gouv.fr, administrations are no longer solely responsible for the common good that is public sector data. Now this responsibility is shared with all stakeholders. It is thus up to all of us to demonstrate that this is the right choice.


(1) This new version of data.gouv.fr is the result of codesign efforts that the Open Knowledge Foundation France participated in.

(2) Nosdonnees.fr is co-managed by Regards Citoyens and OKF France.

Read Etalab’s press release online here

First impressions from the 1-day introduction to Open Data

Mark Wainwright - December 16, 2013 in Events, Featured, Open Data

Last week I gave the Open Knowledge Foundation’s first 1-day Introduction to Open Data training course. Participants from a diverse group of organisations joined me at Friends House in London for a day of presentations, discussions and workshops.

The course course covers the basic concepts – what does it mean for data to be ‘open’? What are the reasons for Open Data and why is it such a hot topic? – as well as a range of things that organisations planning to release data need to consider. Licensing, collection, data protection, open data portals, community-building and more were all discussed during the day.

[IMG: training]
Participants on the course (author, far left)

The eight participants came from organisations including Barnet council, the BBC, Global Witness and the African Development Bank. What united them was a need to learn more about open data – either with a view to publishing it, or equipping themselves with the tools to campaign more effectively for data release.

Thankfully, participants didn’t have to listen to me all day, since their range of experience and knowledge led to lively and fruitful discussions through the day. The course was well-received to judge from the feedback, which included ‘Excellent overview of the key concepts regarding Open Data’; ‘Great session, great location, great participants!’; and my favourite response, ‘A great introduction to the issue. Engaging delivery, more interesting than I expected!’

The course will run again in the new year. No dates are fixed yet but to express an interest in attending, or in running the course in-house for your organisation, contact services@okfn.org.

Open Data Empowers Us to Answer Questions that Matter

Rufus Pollock - December 9, 2013 in Access to Information, Featured, Open Data, Open Knowledge Foundation

This article by Rufus Pollock, Founder and Director of the Open Knowledge Foundation, is cross-posted from “Telefonica Digital Hub” released on 5 December 2013.

Every day we face challenges – from the personal such as the quickest way to get to the work or what we should eat to global ones like climate change and how to sustainably feed and educate seven billion people. Here at the Open Knowledge Foundation we believe that opening up data – and turning that data into insight – can be crucial to addressing these challenges, and building a society in which is everyone – not just the few – are empowered with the knowledge they need to understand and effect change.

Neon sign Open 2005  Photographer User Justinc cc-by-sa

Open data and open knowledge are fundamentally about empowerment, about giving people – citizens, journalists, NGOs, companies and policy-makers – access to the information they need to understand and shape the world around them.

Through openness, we can ensure that technology and data improve science, governance, and society. Without it, we may see the increasing centralisation of knowledge – and therefore power – in the hands of the few, and a huge loss in our potential, individually and collectively, to innovate, understand, and improve the world around us.

Open Data is data that can be freely accessed, used, built upon and shared by anyone, for any purpose. With digital technology – from mobiles to the internet – increasingly everywhere, we’re seeing a data revolution. It’s a revolution both in the amount of data available and in our ability to use, and share, that data. And it’s changing everything we do – from how we travel home from work to how scientists do research, to how government set policy.

Now much of that data is personal, data about you and what you do – what you buy (your loyalty card, your bank statements), where you go (your mobile location or the apps you’ve installed) or who you interact with online (Facebook, Twitter etc). That data should never be “open”, freely accessible to anyone – its your data, and you should control who has access to it and how it is used.

But there’s a lot of data that isn’t personal. Data like the government’s budget, or road maps, or train times, or what’s in that candy bar, or where those jeans were made, or how much carbon dioxide was produced last year … Data like this could and should be open if the governments and corporations who control it can be persuaded to unlock it.

And that’s what we’ve been doing at the Open Knowledge Foundation for the last decade: working to get governments and corporations to unlock their data and make it open.

We’re doing this because of the power of open data to unleash innovation, creativity and insight. It has potential to empower anyone – whether it is an entrepreneur, an activist or a researcher – to get access to information and use it as they see fit. For example, citizens in Ghana using data on mining to ensure they get their fair share of tax revenues to pay for local schools and hospitals, or a startup like Open Healthcare UK using drug prescription data released by the UK government to identify hundreds of millions of pounds of savings for the health services.

It’s key to remember here that real impact doesn’t come directly from open data itself – no one’s life is immediately improved by a new open data initiative or an additional open dataset. Data has to be turned into knowledge, information into insight – and someone has to act on that knowledge.

To do that takes tools and skills – tools for processing, analysing and presenting data, and skills to do that. This is why this is another key area of the Open Knowledge Foundation’s work. With projects like SchoolofData we’re working to teach data skills to those who need them most, and in Open Knowledge Foundation Labs we’re creating lightweight tools to help people use data more easily and effectively.

Finally, it’s about people, the people who use data, and the people who use the insights from that data to drive change. We need to create a culture of “open data makers“, people able and ready to make apps and insights with open data. We need to connect open data with those who have the best questions and the biggest needs – a healthcare worker in Zambia, the London commuter travelling home – and go beyond the data geeks and the tech savvy.

Image “Neon Sign Open” by Justin Cormack, CC-BY

The DataTank 4.0

Guest - December 5, 2013 in OKF Belgium, Open Data, Technical

This post was written by Pieter Colpaert, a member of the Open Knowledge Foundation Belgium Chapter.

The DataTank is open source software, just like CKAN, Drupal or Elastic Search, which you can use to transform a dataset into an HTTP API. Today (the 5th of December 2014), we are proud to launch the 4.0 version on which professional support will be provided. The project was started in 2008 by one of the founders of Open Knowledge Foundation Belgium. Today it remains mainly developed by OKFN Belgium, but we are welcoming new contributors from all over the world.

To get an idea of what The DataTank can do, check http://thedatatank.com or our demo server: http://demo.thedatatank.com.

With this new version of The DataTank, we hope that hackathon developers will have a tool to set up an API for their developers in no time, that start-ups will be able to combine different Open Datasets from all over the world in one Web service without trouble, that Open Data Portal developers are going to integrate The DataTank with CKAN, and that data owners are going to see a faster return on investment from publishing their data.

The platform is written in PHP using the Laravel framework. If this is a language you speak, feel free to dig in and fork us on github: http://github.com/tdt/core

Oh, did we mention it also publishes RDF where suitable? http://demo.thedatatank.com/api/dcat

If you want to use The DataTank at your organisation but you’re not a technical person, we can help you! Contact our team at info@thedatatank.com

What needs to happen to enable citizens to Follow the Money around the world?

Jonathan Gray - November 22, 2013 in Campaigning, Featured, Open Data, Open Government Data, Public Money, Transparency

The following post is from Alan Hudson, Policy Director (Transparency & Accountability) at ONE and Jonathan Gray, Director of Policy and Ideas at the Open Knowledge Foundation.

A few weeks back, we launched a new global “Follow the Money” network of organisations pushing for the transparency needed to enable citizens to hold decision-makers to account for the use of public money. We hope that the network will help organisations working on this agenda to share information about what they’re doing, to develop a shared vision and principles around transparency and open data, and to spot opportunities to collaborate and gaps that need to be filled.

To share experience and inform the development of the network, we also organised a “Follow the Money” session at the Open Government Partnership Summit in London, particularly focusing on the needs of campaigners in developing countries.

Participants at “Follow the Money” session at the Open Government Partnership Summit 2013 in London.

After introductions from ONE, the Open Knowledge Foundation and the World Bank’s Robert Hunja (who chaired the session), Seember Nyager from the Public and Private Development Centre in Nigeria spoke about the centre’s work on procurement monitoring. She said while there are laws and tools in place to enable citizens to monitor and report problems with public procurement, these are currently underused and further work is needed to build the capacity of civil society to use them. She said the “Follow the Money” network could help to integrate transparency efforts around revenues, procurement and monitoring.

Justin Arenstein from the African Media Initiative presented a range of projects where citizens and journalists have followed the money to flag corruption and the misuse of public funds – from Azerbaijan to Ghana. He argued that transparency work in this area should be demand driven, outcomes based and citizen-focused, and that transparency campaigners should make sure to team up with, support and build on the work of investigative journalists.

Rocio Moreno from the Global Movement for Budget Transparency, Accountability and Participation spoke about how to make international work impactful at national level, and how to connect and build on national level work to create global momentum. She argued that the “Follow the Money” network needs to focus on how it can support civil society actors at national level.

Martin Tisne from the Omidyar Network responded to the talks arguing that the “Follow the Money” was a good opportunity to enable better cooperation between fiscal transparency advocates and open data advocates. He contended that the volume of information about public money that we potentially have available to us means that campaigners can no longer pore over contracts one at a time, and we need new tools and techniques to follow the money effectively. Also more technical work on standards is needed to enable linking and comparability between different types of data, so that citizens can follow the money from revenue to results.

Oluseun Onigbinde from BudgIT in Nigeria concurred that “Follow the Money” efforts should be driven by the needs of citizens, and should serve to amplify the voices and concerns of citizens so that governments listen and respond to them. He also suggested that “Follow the Money” network should have an institutional focus – working to identify, highlight and spread public policies which enable citizens to follow the money.

We also discussed possible next steps for the “Follow the Money” network with several of its members, which included: principles to ensure open data is a key requirement in fiscal transparency campaigning; work on data standards and interoperability; mapping activities to explain the different ways that public money flows from revenues to results; further work to highlight fiscal transparency needs of public interest campaigners; national and international campaigning and policy work; and investigations and projects to enable citizens to follow the money in different areas.

Overall our sessions and meetings at the Open Government Partnership confirmed that there was strong support and demand for the “Follow the Money” network as a way for advocates to share updates about what they are doing, and to work together more effectively around common goals. We hope that it will contribute towards building a stronger and better connected global fiscal transparency movement. If you’d like to join us, please do head on over to followthemoney.net.

New petition to fix the EU lobby register

Jonathan Gray - November 8, 2013 in Access to Information, Open Data, Policy

The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU), a coalition of over 200 civil society groups concerned about the effects of corporate lobbying on the EU (including the Open Knowledge Foundation), have recently launched a petition to fix the EU’s official register of lobbyists.

The current register is voluntary, incomplete and unreliable – giving only a small glimpse of the picture about the activities of big lobbyists in Brussels. ALTER-EU produced a detailed report earlier this year looking at some of the things that are wrong with the current register, and how to fix them.

This is an excellent opportunity for the EU to demonstrate their commitment to the principle that official information can be used to strengthen the democracy and public accountability of European institutions (which I wrote about on the EU digital agenda blog a couple of weeks ago).

If you want to see the EU increasing lobbying transparency and fixing the register, we strongly encourage you to sign and share the petition!

If you’re interested in pushing for greater lobbying transparency in your country, you can also join our recently launched global working group on lobbying transparency, that we’re co-hosting with the Sunlight Foundation.

Open Data’s Business Value Isn’t That Important

Guest - November 8, 2013 in Network, Open Data, Open Government Data

This is a cross-post from the Sunlight Foundation blog, written by Director of Sunlight Labs, Tom Lee. See the original post here.

The recent Open Government Partnership meetings in London have provided a good opportunity to assess the direction of our community. The latest comes from Jonathan Gray, and the title — Open government should be about accountability and social justice, not the digital economy — more or less speaks for itself:

[Prime Minister David] Cameron’s speech typified a broader pivot in open government discourse in recent years from political accountability and social justice towards economic growth and digital innovation, from holding power to account to supporting startups. In recent years senior officials from the US and the UK have started alluding to a trinity of “open governments, open societies, and open economies” in high level transparency talks, as well as to the potential of digital technologies and digital information for innovative new businesses and growth. In addition to the kinds of panels you might expect at a transparency summit, there were also sessions on public-private partnerships, entrepreneurs in civic innovation, and smart cities. Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee remarked in his closing talk, “for me always the most exciting piece of it at the end of the day is economic value”.

[...]

While sometimes it may be more more comfortable for governments to highlight their plans to ‘go digital’ or to enable new businesses by opening up official data, transparency advocates should not be distracted from [their] mission to enable citizens to hold power to account and to fight for social and environmental justice.

I agree with Jonathan’s diagnosis of distinct strains within the open government data community. But I don’t think they have to be in tension. I’ve argued before that a big tent is beneficial to us all — that blurring the lines between open data for accountability and open data for economic development can serve both constituencies’ needs. After all, the great thing about open information is that its supply is limitless.

But even if we don’t need to choose between these rationales, it is worth evaluating their relative importance. And through that lens, Jonathan’s point is well taken: the business rationale for opening data is receiving a tremendous amount of attention — arguably more than it merits, given that this business rationale represents a relatively small share of open data’s potential benefits.

The latest evidence for this arrived just last week in the form of a new McKinsey report on the economic value of open data. The resulting headlines and powerpoint slides are likely to focus on the three trillion dollar estimate that leads the report. I’ll be the first to admit that this enormous number from a respected consulting firm will be a useful tool for advocates.

But it’s worth digging in to exactly what the report says and what it means. I suspect we can all agree that open data is meaningful for our countries’ economies. But we need to asking not just how much but also how. From the report:

Much of this value will lead to greater consumer surplus from improved transparency into price and product information. Market share shifts could also occur across the industry, as companies gain competitive advantage by incorporating open data into their analytics.

Emphasis mine. “Improved price transparency and product information” means consumers driving a harder bargain. That means thinner profit margins and more value landing with consumers rather than producers. The report goes on:

Consumers stand to gain the most. Consumers are already beginning to benefit from open data through price transparency (for example, by using online shopping sites that offer price comparisons). Other information about products and services could be made available through open data (e.g., whether trains are running on time or the labor and environmental practices of manufacturers) and could be used by consumers to select the products and services that best match their preferences. Opening [personalized datasets] gives consumers better visibility into their own consumption, often revealing information that can lead to changes in behavior. Open data also gives individuals (as consumers and citizens) new channels to provide input to improve the quality of goods and services (including public services) and the quality of data. Together, more than 50 percent of the value potential we estimated is in consumer and customer surplus.

This is an incredibly important point: most of the benefits of open data will accrue to consumers and citizens, not to investors and firms.

That’s not to say that open data startups aren’t important or potentially lucrative. But the wealth they generate directly is likely to be relatively small compared to the more diffuse benefits that open data can confer: better governance, more efficient markets, and smarter business decisions.

I’ve argued before that there are structural reasons to expect that business can only capture a small portion of open data’s value. And I’ll repeat: this in no way invalidates the importance of those businesses or the usefulness of the services they will deliver to citizens, government and industry.

But it does help to set our priorities. Open data’s value will manifest relatively rarely in the form of dividends or paychecks. Often, its benefits will be difficult to quantify.

Consider the now-classic pro-transparency case of restaurant inspection scores. Studies have found that posting these scores reduces food-borne illness hospitalizations between 13 and 20 percent. That’s a real benefit to diners and to our health-care system. But it will, if anything, show up as a decrease in business activity. The cost of implementing the program is probably small; diners will probably still pay the same amount for their (now slightly-safer) meals; hospitals will be billing less. This is boring econ 101 stuff, but it’s important to understand that these benefits are real even if they are difficult to measure in dollars.

It’s also important to understand the political economy implications of this example. There might be no natural constituency that demands health inspection data. The restaurants and hospitals have little incentive to push for disclosure. The benefit to diners is real but too diffuse to mobilize many. It might not be practical to expect a popular outcry to spur reform.

That’s where our community comes in — the nonprofits, activists, foundations, political organizers, policy experts and civic hackers. Better services, more value, greater accountability: that’s where most of open data’s promise lies, and where the most important work remains to be done if we are to ensure that it is realized.

This is doubly true thanks to the magic of the profit motive. If there’s money to be made, smart entrepeneurs will find ways to unlock it. I hope and expect that they will — that’s the beauty of capitalism. But this calls into question the rationale for government and philanthropic efforts to emphasize and explicitly subsidize the economic development of open data relative to other uses.

As I’ve said, I don’t think we have to choose between those uses. I truly believe that a big tent benefits us all. But I’m with Jonathan: better businesses will be great to have, but better societies are even more exciting.