Open data in action

Warning: After reading this post you may find yourself wanting to stay for a week in Finland for no apparent reason.

“Open data is a means to an end, not an end in itself,” notices Rufus Pollock from the Open Knowledge Foundation (source). The question is, then, how do we put this means to action, to achieve the ends that it might help us achieving? How do we translate open data into action?

Only few open datasets contain “actionable” data that affords ground for an action. The data that is released into the open may be flooded with irrelevant data that makes relevant data hard to find. Governments take the safe road of disclosure of data that is not sensitive, does not shed any light on the intra-governmental processes, and leaves governments as opaque as they were previous to their adoption of open data.

Even the data that contains valuable knowledge may be hard to put to use. Raw and often cryptic data formats used in the public sector may prove to be particularly difficult to work with for citizens that do not possess the insider knowledge and skills that civil servants have. Not only the data requires access to information and communication technologies, its use depends on access to education with which the users of the data may acquire technical skills necessary for its effective use. So far, open data initiatives were focused on technically inclined citizens, savvy enough to make use of raw data. If open data is to gain a sufficient traction to be transformative for the society, we need to fix this flaw and address this challenge, a challenge of inclusiveness.

What we have seen up to now is a fairly limited range of uses of open data. The impact of open data is, in most cases, caught in an echo chamber of new media. Open data serves to “raise awareness”, incite discussions about government decisions, and improve the level of public discourse; all of which feeds back into a dissemination loop. The more data is released, the more discussion it generates, leading to release of yet another data, while lacking real-world impact. We need data to be used to drive innovative businesses, inform evidence-based policy, or sentence criminals to jail based on findings yielded from the data.

“Open data in action” is the theme of the upcoming Open Knowledge Festival, which will take place during the week from 17th to 22nd September in Helsinki, Finland. If you think you know how to address the issues I have raised and you know how to put open data in action, consider letting others know. Open your knowledge to others, and let the #OKFest couple it with those vested with powers to implement it and ultimately put it into action!