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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.

1-day Open Data training, London, 6 December

Mark Wainwright - November 6, 2013 in Events, Open Data, Open Government Data, Training

The Services team of the Open Knowledge Foundation will be running a public version of its one-day introductory training course on Open Data, on Friday, 6 December in central London. The course is open to anyone who has an interest in Open Data in a professional capacity, and wants an introduction from one of the leading organisations in the field. Places are limited, so to register your interest, please sign up here.

Note: If your organisation is interested in in-house training, we have a programme of courses we can offer, including this introductory course as well as a 5-day course for Open Data managers. Contact services@okfn.org for more information.

What will it cover?

The course will give an overview of the following: What is Open Data; kinds of data; Benefits of Open Data; regulatory requirements; data licensing; data quality and formats; an introduction to Linked Data; planning an Open Data project; data portals; publishing data; community engagement.

Who is it for?

The course is oriented towards organisations, such as local government councillors and officers, considering starting their own Open Data initiative. It will be useful for those for whom Open Data is a bit of a mystery wanting to get an overview; decision makers who are supportive of the idea of Open Data, but need to understand what it will involve in technical terms; people responsible for the successful implementation of the project as well as staff who will be using or maintaing it, and anyone else interested in learning more about Open Data. No technical background is

What do I need?

No technical or other background is needed – just an interest in learning more about Open Data.

Background

Local governments and other organisations are looking at how they can release data they hold – unleashing creativity from local entrepreneurs, researchers, journalists, third-sector organisations and citizens, and helping to build economic activity as well as accountability and trust. The Open Knowledge Foundation has unparalleled expertise in the area, having been active in Open Data since 2004. Among many other projects it built the original version of the UK government’s highly successful data portal data.gov.uk, and its School of Data runs courses to enable citizens and civil society organisations to make effective use of data.

Registration and cost

The price for the day is £250. To register your interest in attending, please sign up here. An early-bird price of £200 will apply to registrations by 17 November, and places are limited to 12, so get in touch!

The Open Knowledge Foundation’s hopes for the Open Government Partnership

Jonathan Gray - October 30, 2013 in Featured, Open Data, Open Government Data, Policy

SummitLogo1

Tomorrow campaigners and officials from over 60 countries will gather in London for the second annual summit of the Open Government Partnership, a voluntary multi-stakeholder initiative dedicated to strengthening the transparency and accountability commitments of its member states.

Over the past few months we’ve been involved in extensive consultations and talks to give input to the UK’s National Action Plan, hoping that the UK taking leadership in key areas will spur other countries to follow suit. We’re also organising and participating in numerous events and sessions at and around this week’s summit on topics that we think deserve attention.

What do we hope will happen this week? Following are some of the areas we’ll be particularly keeping an eye on over the coming days.

Ending secrecy around company ownership

We hope the UK and other governments commit to cracking down on phantom firms by creating open, public registers of who really owns and controls companies. This has been a major campaigning point for many of the civil society organisations involved in the process of developing the UK’s National Action Plan and we and many others will be watching keenly for announcements in this area tomorrow and Friday.

Enabling citizens to ‘Follow the Money’

We hope that the Open Government Partnership member countries will commit to opening up information about public money so that citizens can hold decision-makers to account. Crucially this should not just be spending and budgets, but also things like contracts and revenues from public assets like natural resources and land. We’ll be discussing this in our ‘Follow the Money’ session – in particular focusing on the needs of campaigners in developing countries. If you’re interested in this area, you can sign up on our recently launched Follow the Money site.

Putting carbon emissions transparency on the open government agenda

We’d like to see more OGP countries making carbon emissions transparency a key part of their open government commitments. In particular we’d like corporate carbon emissions reporting requirements to result in the publication of machine readable open databases. We’d also like to see more timely, granular, and accessible data from governments at both national and subnational levels, and more initiatives to engage citizens around progress on tracking carbon pollution reduction.

Who’s lobbying?

We think every country in the world should have a lobbyist register that shows who is lobbying whom for what, to help to safeguard against big money having an unfair influence in politics. And we think it is essential that lobbyist registers are published as open data. We hope to see announcements in this area from OGP countries, and discussion about how to improve transparency around who’s lobbying. If you’re interested in this area you can join the new working group that we recently launched with the Sunlight Foundation.

‘Follow the Money’ with ONE and the Open Knowledge Foundation at the Open Government Partnership

Jonathan Gray - October 30, 2013 in Campaigning, Featured, Open Data, Open Government Data, Public Money

As the Open Government Partnership summit kicks off, we’re pleased to launch a new website for the emerging ‘Follow the Money’ network, FollowTheMoney.net, supported by ONE and the Open Knowledge Foundation.

If you’re interested in using information about public money to hold decision-makers to account, then we hope you’ll join us. Fill in your details on the site and we’ll be in touch.

At our session at the Open Government Partnership Summit tomorrow we’ll be looking at what we might be able to do to support campaigners who want to ‘follow the money’ around the world – especially in developing countries. The session will be live-streamed (at 15.45 PM GMT, Thursday October 31st) and we’ll be posting further details shortly (for more information about Thursday’s session and the Follow the Money campaign download this fact sheet).

In the meantime you can also join the conversation on Twitter with the #followthemoney hashtag.

Detail from FollowTheMoney.net

The Open Definition in context: putting open into practice

Laura James - October 16, 2013 in Featured, Linked Open Data, Open Data, Open Definition, Open Knowledge Definition, Open Standards

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”.

Dear Prime Minister, Please increase the ambition of the UK’s open government commitments

Jonathan Gray - October 8, 2013 in Open Data, Open Government Data

The Open Knowledge Foundation is part of a group of civil society organisations behind an open letter to the UK Prime Minister urging him to increase the ambition of the UK’s open government commitments in the run up to the Open Government Partnership Summit in London later this month.

This isn’t just about the UK. The UK has an opportunity to take leadership in a number of key areas – such as beneficial ownership and financial transparency – which will affect developments in many other countries around the world.

Our letter is reproduced in full below.

An open letter to the Prime Minister on the UK’s open government commitments

Rt Hon David Cameron MP
10 Downing Street
London
SW1A 2AA

Cc: The Rt Hon Nick Clegg MP (Deputy Prime Minister),
Rt Hon Francis Maude MP (Minister for the Cabinet Office),
Nick Hurd MP (Minister for Civil Society)

8 October 2013

Dear Prime Minister,

The end of October is a critical moment for open government in the UK and beyond. The UK will publish its second open government National Action Plan, host the Open Government Partnership Annual Summit, and hand over the baton of chairing the OGP. We hope that the Government will mark this important occasion by announcing a series of ambitious commitments towards greater openness, building on the leadership shown at the G8 Summit.

We welcome the emphasis that you have placed on the principles of open government both domestically and internationally and your ambition of becoming ‘the most open and transparent government in the world’. The true strength of your Government’s efforts will ultimately be judged by the level of new ambition in the commitments made and delivered through the action plan launched on 31 October at the Summit in London.

For the UK Plan, while progress has been made in finding common ground on a number of important issues, we are concerned by the absence of any truly ambitious new commitments. With three weeks to go, we call on you to take a lead in delivering such commitments:

  1. Make public who owns and controls companies and trusts, by publishing a beneficial ownership register that meets the standards set out in the Open Data Charter. A public register would support good corporate governance and a clean and respected business environment, as well as lift the veil of secrecy that the corrupt and the criminal use to hide their identity.

  2. Enable public scrutiny of all organisations in receipt of public money, by opening up public sector contracts and extending transparency standards and legislation. Endorse and implement a system of ‘Open Contracting’, ensuring public disclosure and monitoring of contracting from procurement to the close of projects, and amend the Freedom of Information Act so that all information held by a contractor in connection with a public service contract is brought within its scope.

  3. Bring lobbying out into the open in the UK, by developing a robust, compulsory register of lobbyists. An open and comprehensive register would allow public scrutiny of who is lobbying whom, what they are seeking to influence and how much is being spent in the process.

Ambitious commitments such as these will not only send a clear message about the UK’s commitment to open government at home, but will lead by example and demonstrate the level of ambition expected of other countries as they draft their own national action plans.

Yours sincerely,

Alexandra Runswick, Director, Unlock Democracy
Anne Thurston, Director, International Records Management Trust
Anthony Zacharzewski, Director, The Democratic Society
Cathy James, Chief Executive, Public Concern at Work
Chris Bain, Director, CAFOD
Chris Taggart, Co-founder & CEO, Open Corporates
Claire Schouten, Programme Director, Integrity Action
David Hall-Matthews, Managing Director, Publish What You Fund
Emily Gerrard, Director, Development Research and Training UK
Gavin Hayman, Director of Campaigns, Global Witness
Javier Ruiz, Campaigner, Open Rights Group
Dr Laura James, CEO, Open Knowledge Foundation
Maurice Frankel, Director, Campaign for Freedom of Information
Miles Litvinoff, Coordinator, Publish What You Pay UK
Richard Murphy, Director, Tax Research
Simon Burall, Director, Involve
Tamasin Cave, Director, Spinwatch
Tim Davies, Director, Practical Participation

Exploring openness and the Open Definition

Laura James - October 7, 2013 in Featured, Open Data, Open Definition, Open Knowledge Definition

We’ve set out the basics of what open data means, so here we explore the Open Definition in more detail, including the importance of bulk access to open information, commercial use of open data, machine-readability, and what conditions can be imposed by a data provider.

Commercial Use

A key element of the definition is that commercial use of open data is allowed – there should be no restrictions on commercial or for-profit use of open data.

In the full Open Definition, this is included as “No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor — The license must not restrict anyone from making use of the work in a specific field of endeavor. For example, it may not restrict the work from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research.”

The major intention of this clause is to prohibit license traps that prevent open material from being used commercially; we want commercial users to join our community, not feel excluded from it.

Examples of commercial open data business models

It may seem odd that companies can make money from open data. Business models in this area are still being invented and explored but here are a couple of options to help illustrate why commercial use is a vital aspect of openness.

open data buttons

You can use an open data set to create a high capacity, reliable API which others can access and build apps and websites with, and to charge for access to that API – as long as a free bulk download is also available. (An API is a way for different pieces of software or different computers to connect and exchange information; most applications and apps use APIs to access data via the internet, such as the latest news or maps or prices for products.)

Businesses can also offer services around data improvement and cleaning; for example, taking several sets of open data, combining them and enhancing them (by creating consistent naming for items within the data, say, or connecting two different datasets to generate new insights).

(Note that charging for data licensing is not an option here – charging for access to the data means it is not open data! This business model is often talked about in the context of personal information or datasets which have been compiled by a business. These are perfectly fine business models for data but they aren’t open data.)

Attribution, “Integrity” and Share-alike

Whilst the Open Definition permits very few conditions to be placed on how someone can use open data it does allow a few specific exceptions:

  • Attribution: an open data provider may require attribution (. that you credit them in an appropriate way). This can be important in allowing open data providers to receive credit for their work, and for downstream users to know where data came from.
  • Integrity: an open data provider may require that a user of the data makes it clear if the data has been changed. This can be very relevant for governments, for example, who wish to ensure that people do not claim data is official if it has been modified.
  • Share-alike: an open data provider may impose a share-alike licence, requiring that any new datasets created using their data are also shared as open data.

Machine-readability and bulk access

Data can be provided in many ways, and this can have a significant impact on how easy it is to use it. The Open Definition requires that data be both machine-readable and available in “bulk” to help make sure it’s not too difficult to make useful.

Data is machine-readable if it can be easily processed by a computer. This does not just mean that it’s digital, but that it is in a digital structure that is appropriate for the relevant processing. For example, consider a PDF document containing tables of data. These are digital, but computers will struggle to extract the information from the PDF (even though it is very human readable!). The equivalent tables in a format such as a spreadsheet would be machine-readable. Read more about machine-readability in the open data glossary.

Some machine readable data being read by a machine

Data is available in bulk if you can download or access the whole dataset easily. It is not available in bulk if you are you limited to just getting parts of the dataset, for example, if you are restricted to getting just a few elements of the data at a time – imagine for example trying to access a dataset of all the towns in the world one country at a time.

APIs versus Bulk

Providing data through an API is great – and often more convenient for many of the things one might want to do with data than bulk access, such as presenting some useful information in a mobile app.

However, the Open Definition requires bulk access rather than an API. There are two main reasons for this:

  • Bulk access allows you to build an API (if you want to!). If you need all the data, using an API to get it can be difficult or inefficient. For example, think about Twitter: using their API to download all the tweets would be very hard and slow. Thus, bulk access is the only way to guarantee full access to the data for everyone. Once bulk access is available, anyone else can build an API which will help others use the data. You can also use bulk data to create interesting new things such as search indexes and complex visualisations.
  • Bulk access is significantly cheaper than providing an API. Today you can store gigabytes of data for less than a dollar a month; but running even a basic API can cost much more, and running a proper API that supports high demand can be very expensive.

So having an API is not a requirement for data to be open – although of course it is great if one is available.

Moreover, it is perfectly fine for someone to charge for access to open data through an API – as long as they also provide the data for free in bulk. (Strictly speaking, the requirement isn’t that the bulk data is available for free but that the charge is no more than the extra cost of reproduction. For online downloads, that’s very close to free!) This makes sense: open data must be free but open data services (such as an API) can be charged for.

(It’s worth considering what this means for real-time data, where new information is being generated all the time, such as live traffic information. The answer here depends somewhat on the situation, but for open real-time data one would imagine a combination of bulk download access, and some way to get rapid or regular updates. For example, you might provide a stream of the latest updates which is available all the time, and a bulk download of a complete day’s data every night.)

Licensing and the public domain

Generally, when we want to know whether a dataset is legally open, we check to see whether it is available under an open licence (or that it’s in the public domain by means of a “dedication”).

However, it is important to note that it is not always clear whether there are any exclusive, intellectual-property-style rights in the data such as copyright or sui-generis database rights (for example, this may depend on your jurisdiction). You can read more about this complex issue in the Open Definition legal overview of rights in data. If there aren’t exclusive rights in the data, then it would automatically be in the public domain, and putting it online would be sufficient to make it open.

However, since, this is an area where things are not very clear, it is generally recommended to apply an appropriate open license – that way if there are exclusive rights you’ve licensed them and if there aren’t any rights you’ve not done any harm (the data was already in the public domain!).

More about openness coming soon

In coming days we’ll post more on the theme of explaining openness, including the relationship of the Open Definition to specific sets of principles for openness – such as the Sunlight Foundation’s 10 principles and Tim Berners-Lee’s 5 star system, why having a shared and agreed definition of open data is so important, and how one can go about “doing open data”.

Next Steps on “Follow the Money” – from OKCon to the Open Government Partnership Summit

Jonathan Gray - October 4, 2013 in OKCon, Open Data, Open Government Data, Public Money

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.

Last month we announced the Open Knowledge Foundation and ONE’s plans to support and strengthen the community of activists and advocacy organisations working to enable citizens to follow the money and hold decision-makers to account for the use of public money.

A few weeks ago at OKCon 2013 we had a brainstorming session with a group of leading financial transparency and open data organisations to define next steps for the collaboration.

We had an excellent turnout including many of the key organisations promoting financial transparency such as Development Initiatives, Publish What You Fund, Publish What You Pay, the Revenue Watch Institute, the Sunlight Foundation, the Transparency and Accountability Initiative, and Transparency International.

Participants in the session shared their experience of trying to follow the money – the challenges and opportunities – and explored how we might collectively join the dots between various efforts to promote transparency. We talked about creating better data standards so information is easier to connect and compare, sharing resources and information about the flow of public money, and how to ensure that transparency initiatives meet the needs of campaigners pushing for change.

The top two priorities identified were as follows. First, mapping the ‘Follow the Money’ space to get a better sense of who is doing what to follow flows of public money from revenue to results, across different sectors and in different countries around the world. Second, doing much more to understand what citizens and civil society organisations need to help them to follow the money and collecting use-cases of how joining the transparency dots will help.

We’re currently planning ‘Follow the Money’ activities around the Open Government Partnership Summit in London on 31st October to 1st November, where we will continue the conversation – in particular focusing on the needs of campaigners in developing countries.

If you or your organisation are interested in joining us to Follow the Money, you can get in touch via the following form.

Defining Open Data

Laura James - October 3, 2013 in Featured, Open Data, Open Definition, Open Knowledge Definition

Open data is data that can be freely used, shared and built-on by anyone, anywhere, for any purpose. This is the summary of the full Open Definition which the Open Knowledge Foundation created in 2005 to provide both a succinct explanation and a detailed definition of open data.

As the open data movement grows, and even more governments and organisations sign up to open data, it becomes ever more important that there is a clear and agreed definition for what “open data” means if we are to realise the full benefits of openness, and avoid the risks of creating incompatibility between projects and splintering the community.

Open can apply to information from any source and about any topic. Anyone can release their data under an open licence for free use by and benefit to the public. Although we may think mostly about government and public sector bodies releasing public information such as budgets or maps, or researchers sharing their results data and publications, any organisation can open information (corporations, universities, NGOs, startups, charities, community groups and individuals).

Read more about different kinds of data in our one page introduction to open data

There is open information in transport, science, products, education, sustainability, maps, legislation, libraries, economics, culture, development, business, design, finance …. So the explanation of what open means applies to all of these information sources and types. Open may also apply both to data – big data and small data – or to content, like images, text and music!

So here we set out clearly what open means, and why this agreed definition is vital for us to collaborate, share and scale as open data and open content grow and reach new communities.

What is Open?

The full Open Definition provides a precise definition of what open data is. There are 2 important elements to openness:

  • Legal openness: you must be allowed to get the data legally, to build on it, and to share it. Legal openness is usually provided by applying an appropriate (open) license which allows for free access to and reuse of the data, or by placing data into the public domain.
  • Technical openness: there should be no technical barriers to using that data. For example, providing data as printouts on paper (or as tables in PDF documents) makes the information extremely difficult to work with. So the Open Definition has various requirements for “technical openness,” such as requiring that data be machine readable and available in bulk.

There are a few key aspects of open which the Open Definition explains in detail. Open Data is useable by anyone, regardless of who they are, where they are, or what they want to do with the data; there must be no restriction on who can use it, and commercial use is fine too.

Open data must be available in bulk (so it’s easy to work with) and it should be available free of charge, or at least at no more than a reasonable reproduction cost. The information should be digital, preferably available by downloading through the internet, and easily processed by a computer too (otherwise users can’t fully exploit the power of data – that it can be combined together to create new insights).

Open Data must permit people to use it, re-use it, and redistribute it, including intermixing with other datasets and distributing the results.

The Open Definition generally doesn’t allow conditions to be placed on how people can use Open Data, but it does permit a data provider to require that data users credit them in some appropriate way, make it clear if the data has been changed, or that any new datasets created using their data are also shared as open data.

There are 3 important principles behind this definition of open, which are why Open Data is so powerful:

  • Availability and Access: that people can get the data
  • Re-use and Redistribution: that people can reuse and share the data
  • Universal Participation: that anyone can use the data

Governance of the Open Definition

Since 2007, the Open Definition has been governed by an Advisory Council. This is the group formally responsible for maintaining and developing the Definition and associated material. Its mission is to take forward Open Definition work for the general benefit of the open knowledge community, and it has specific responsibility for deciding on what licences comply with the Open Definition.

The Council is a community-run body. New members of the Council can be appointed at any time by agreement of the existing members of the Advisory Council, and are selected for demonstrated knowledge and competence in the areas of work of the Council.

The Advisory Council operates in the open and anyone can join the mailing list.

About the Open Definition

The Open Definition was created in 2005 by the Open Knowledge Foundation with input from many people. The Definition was based directly on the Open Source Definition from the Open Source Initiative and we were able to reuse most of these well-established principles and practices that the free and open source community had developed for software, and apply them to data and content.

Thanks to the efforts of many translators in the community, the Open Definition is available in 30+ languages.

More about openness coming soon

In coming days we’ll post more on the theme of explaining openness, including a more detailed exploration of the Open Definition, the relationship of the Open Definition to specific sets of principles for openness – such as the Sunlight Foundation’s 10 principles and Tim Berners-Lee’s 5 star system, why having a shared and agreed definition of open data is so important, and how one can go about “doing open data”.

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