Impact of open data

The following post is an excerpt from my thesis entitled Linked open data for public sector information.
Rufus Pollock from the Open Knowledge Foundation argues that “open data is a means to an end, not an end in itself” [1]. Open data alone has no impact, as its impact is triggered by its use. Thus, no impact is guaranteed by the intrinsic properties of open data.
Open data discourse contains a vision that promises a better society in the offing. It is a vision that stems from the belief in transformative effects of open data principles and information technologies that are entrusted to deliver this vision. However, this vision will not be put into practice by releasing open data. Its the use of open data that puts the transformation into motion.
Rhetoric of open data advocates emphasizes the positive side of open access to public sector data. Moreover, it is often presented as an asymptomatic and strictly apolitical issue. However, it would be short-sighted to assume it is a neutral, technological change. We need to admit that there are both positive and negative impacts of open data, bringing both benefits and repercussions.
Distinguishing between the target of open data impacts, a rough categorization can be drawn classifying impacts either as internal, if they affect data producers, or as external, if they influence others.

Internal impact

Internal impact, which affects the producers of public sector data, is based largely on data about the public sector. The data describing the public sector is a record of its activity that may be used and scrutinized to improve the workings of the public sector. An open and better performing public sector is among the key objectives of the open data movement. Ultimately, open data paves the way to an open and more efficient government.
Open data disrupts existing workflows that are established in the public sector. It subjects the public sector to a greater transparency, which enables to held civil servants accountable, and establishes conditions under which the public sector may function in a more efficient way.

External impact

External impact of open data affects the demand side of open data. It results chiefly from availability of data about the environment governed by the public sector bodies releasing the data.
A recognized issue with the open data movement is that it lacks focus on the demand side of data. It suffers from unrealistic expectations brought about with the pervasive tendency to pay attention solely to the supply side, which is coupled with a lack of consideration of how the data would be used after its release [2, p. 1]. The public sector should abandon this ill-considered model and instead adopt a user-centric model for data disclosure.
Close attention to the demand side is needed because the power of open data is not in itself, it resides in the ways it can empower people that use the data. Open data empowers citizens to make better decisions. For example, access to crime data may assist city dwellers in finding the safest route home. Information about wheelchair access to public transportation may help persons with reduced mobility to arrange their city transport better. The effects of open data that impact users of data are covered in the following sections. Among the effects that are discussed is the phenomenon of disintermediation that allows users of data to by-pass intermediaries and the ways in which open data enables citizens to participate in public affairs. Influences of open data on two specific domains are considered. The availability of public sector data is a new potential for the economy. For journalism open data brings about a change that makes it become more data-driven.


  1. POLLOCK, Rufus. Open data: a means to an end, not an end in itself [online]. September 15th, 2011 [cit. 2012-04-06]. Available from WWW: http://blog.okfn.org/2011/09/15/open-data-a-means-to-an-end-not-an-end-in-itself/
  2. MCCLEAN, Tom. Not with a bang but with a whimper: the politics of accountability and open data in the UK. In HAGOPIAN, Frances; HONIG, Bonnie (eds.). American Political Science Association Annual Meeting Papers, Seattle, Washington, 1 — 4 September 2011 [online]. Washington (DC): American Political Science Association, 2011 [cit. 2012-04-19]. Also available from WWW: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1899790

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