What is Open data?

  • By “open”, we mean data that is open according to the Open Definition. In essence, “open” data is free for anyone to use, re-use and re-distribute.
  • By “open data” we mean data and information produced or commissioned by government or government controlled entities.

Why is it important?

Open government data is a tremendous resource that is as yet largely untapped. The government collects a vast quantity of high-quality data as part of its ordinary working activities. If this data is made open, it can have huge potential benefits.

Part of the beauty of open government data is that it is impossible to predict precisely how it will be used to create value. The nature of innovation is that developments often appear in unlikely places.

Some areas in which open government data is already having a positive impact include:

  • Transparency and democratic control
  •  Participation
  • Self-empowerment
  • Improved or new private products and services
  • Innovation
  • Improved efficiency of government services
  • Improved effectiveness of government services
  • Impact measurement of policies
  • New knowledge from combined data sources and patterns in large data volumes
  • Examples exist for most of these areas.

The notion of open data and specifically {term: open government data} - information, public or otherwise, which anyone is free to access and re-use for any purpose - has been around for some years. In 2009 open data started to become visible in the mainstream, with various governments (such as the USA, UK, Canada and New Zealand) announcing new initiatives towards opening up their public information

Many individuals and organisations collect a broad range of different types of data in order to perform their tasks. Government is particularly significant in this respect, both because of the quantity and centrality of the data it collects, but also because most of that government data is public data by law, and therefore could be made open and made available for others to use.


Why is that of interest?

There are many areas where we can expect open data to be of value, and where examples of how it has been used already exist. There are also many different groups of people and organisations who can benefit from the availability of open data, including government itself. At the same time it is impossible to predict precisely how and where value will be created in the future. The nature of innovation is that developments often comes from unlikely places.

Open government data can also help you to make better decisions in your own life, or enable you to be more active in society. Some examples that use open government data.

  • A woman in Denmark built findtoilet.dk, which showed all the Danish public toilets, so that people she knew with bladder problems can now trust themselves to go out more again.
  •  In the Netherlands a service, vervuilingsalarm.nl, is available which warns you with a message if the air-quality in your vicinity is going to reach a self-defined threshold tomorrow.
  • In New York you can easily find out where you can walk your dog, as well as find other people who use the same parks.
  •  Services like ‘mapumental’ in the UK and ‘mapnificent’ in Germany allow you to find places to live, taking into account the duration of your commute to work, housing prices, and how beautiful an area is.

Open data is also of value for government itself. For example, it can increase government efficiency.

While there are numerous instances of the ways in which open data is already creating both social and economic value, we don’t yet know what new things will become possible. New combinations of data can create new knowledge and insights, which can lead to whole new fields of application. We have seen this in the past, for example when Dr. Snow discovered the relationship between drinking water pollution and cholera in London in the 19th century, by combining data about cholera deaths with the location of water wells. This led to the building of London’s sewage systems, and hugely improved the general health of the population. We are likely to see such developments happening again as unexpected insights flow from the combination of different open data sets.