Appendix: Definitions

Accountability means ensuring officials in public, private and voluntary sector organisations are answerable for their actions and that there is redress when duties and commitments are not met. An accountability relationship can be thought of as having four stages (adapted from the Transparency & Accountability Initiative):

  • standard setting: setting out expected behaviour and judgement criteria
  • investigation: exploring whether or not the expected standards have been met
  • answerability: ensuring that the officials being held to account face questions and explain themselves
  • sanction: ensuring that the officials being held to account are in some way punished for falling below expected standards

Anonymisation is a process that transforms personal identifiable data into non-identifiable (anonymous) data. This requires that identifiers be removed, obscured, aggregated and/or altered in some way. There are two types of identifiers: formal/direct identifiers (such as a data subject’s name, address and unique reference number) and complex identifiers, which can in principle include any piece of information (or combination of pieces of information) that could re-identify a person. (Adapted from the UK Anonymisation Network’s glossary of terms.)

Data portals and catalogues are ‘one-stop-shops’ for data consumers that act as either a registry of data sources, providing links, or a single entry point hosting the actual data, where end users can search and access the published data and explore or interact with it in some manner. Various tools are provided on government data portals, such as data format conversion, visualisations, and query endpoints. (Adapted from Attard et al. 2015.)

Intermediary: An open data intermediary is an agent (i) positioned at some point in a data supply chain that incorporates an open dataset or (ii) positioned between two agents in the supply chain, and (iii) facilitates the use of open data that may otherwise not have been the case. (Definition from the Open Data Research Network.)

Interoperability denotes the ability of diverse systems and organisations to work together (interoperate). In the case of open data, it is the ability to interoperate – or intermix – different datasets. Interoperability is important because it allows for different components to work together. This ability to componentise and to ‘plug together’ components is essential to building large, complex systems. (Adapted from the Open Data Handbook.)

Metadata is data that provides information about other data. It is often structured (e.g. with tagging). It may be embedded within a single file, incorporated in the ‘packaging’ associated with a group of files, placed in a related external file or in a system external to the digital file to which the digital file or files are linked. (Adapted from US Government Digitization Guidelines).

Open data is publicly available data that can be universally and readily accessed, used and redistributed free of charge. For data to be considered ‘open’, it must be accessible, which usually means published on the web; available in a machine-readable format; and have a licence that permits anyone to access, use and share it – commercially and non-commercially. (A fuller and more precise definition is maintained by the Open Definition project.)

Open governance: Governance broadly speaking is the relationship between citizens and their governments, and the processes in which they interact. Opening governance means working towards governance relationships and processes that are transparent, accountable and participatory, and that allow the perspectives, needs and rights of all citizens to be addressed, including those most marginalised by power relations (McGee & Edwards, 2016).

Open government data is a subset of open data, and is data owned or maintained by the government that is made open to the public. Government data might contain multiple datasets, including on budget and spending, population, census or geographical data, and parliamentary minutes. It also includes data that is indirectly ‘owned’ by public administrations (e.g. through subsidiaries or agencies), such as data related to climate/pollution, public transportation, congestion/traffic, and child care/education. (Adapted from Attard et al., 2015.)

An open licence permits users to download and use data for any purpose. Some open licences have caveats, such as requiring attribution. Common open licences include some Creative Commons licences (excluding ‘non-commercial’ licences) and some governments’ own licences, including the UK’s Open Government Licence.

Open standards are technical standards made available to the general public that are developed (or approved) and maintained via a collaborative and consensus-driven process. They facilitate interoperability and data exchange among different products or services and are intended for widespread adoption. (Adapted from the International Telecommunications Union; see also the Open Stand Principles.)

Transparency is a characteristic of governments, companies, organisations and individuals that are open in the clear disclosure of information, rules, plans, processes and actions. As a principle, public officials, directors of companies and organisations and board trustees have a duty to act visibly, predictably and understandably to promote participation and accountability. Simply making information available is not sufficient to achieve transparency; rather, information should be managed and published so it is relevant and accessible, timely and accurate. (Adapted from the Transparency and Accountability Initiative.)