Open data

Open data involves the release of data so that anyone can access, use and share it. The Open Data Charter (2015) describes six principles that aim to make data easier to find, use and combine:

  • open by default
  • timely and comprehensive
  • accessible and usable
  • comparable and interoperable
  • for improved governance and citizen engagement
  • for inclusive development and innovation

Open by default means that, unless there are good reasons for data to be closed or under restricted sharing arrangements, it should be usable for any legal purpose and accessible to all, and that restrictions on its reuse should be clearly justified. This is usually achieved by:

  • making data machine-readable
  • publishing it online
  • providing a clear statement that gives anyone permission to reuse it

For many open data advocates, the concept is rooted in Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s work to build a linked web of data similar to his original World Wide Web. Sir Tim saw potential in enabling algorithms to pull together data from multiple sources to generate new insights, ideas and services. This narrative is reflected in principles of the open web and the value systems of open source, open knowledge and ‘hacker’ or ‘maker’ communities.

The idea of open data has found expression in government commitments to open government and open governance, understood as transformations in the way states engage with citizens. Here, open data is about improved institutional responsiveness and better decision-making by policy-makers and citizens, and is tied to concepts of citizen choice as a mechanism for improving service delivery.  (See for example Robinson, Yu, Zeller & Fenton 2009, and Yu & Robinson 2012.)

Open data is primarily a means of enabling transparency, although some argue that it can contribute to economic growth through efficiency and innovation.