Challenges of open data: implementation

The following post is an excerpt from my thesis entitled Linked open data for public sector information.
Data publishers may perceive adoption of linked open data to have daunting entry barriers. In particular, they are aware of the high demands on expertise for publishing linked data, which is esteemed to have a steep learning curve. Linked data publishing model poses requirements that may seem to be difficult to meet. The Frequently Observed Problems on the Web of Data [1] testify to that.
Therefore, “it is vital to follow a realistic, practical and inexpensive approach” [2]. Fortunately, linked data facilitates an incremental, evolutionary information management. Its deployment may follow a step by step approach, adopting iterative development for continuous improvement. For example, before a switch of the database technology linked data publishers could start by caching given legacy databases into triple stores. Another way how to cushion the demands of linked data adoption is to minimise their ontological commitment by creating small ontologies that may be gradually linked together.
Two implementation challenges collocated with the adoption of linked open data in the public sector will be dealt with in detail; resistance to change in the public sector and maturity of the linked data technology stack.

Resistance to change

Rhetoric of open data supporters puts an emphasis on bureaucracy as a major barrier to opening data in the public sector. There is a tendency to frame the politics of access to data as a struggle between the public sector, that has an inbreed attachment to secrecy, and members of the public, which are depicted rather as individuals than groups [3, p. 7].
While this view seems to be biased, the institutional inertia may pose a challenge to adoption of open data, which may require a “cultural change in the public sector” [4]. The transition from the status quo may be significantly hindered by the established culture in the public administration. “A major impediment is an entrenched closed culture in many government organisations as a result of the fear of disclosing government failures and provoking political escalation and public outcry” [5]. The intangible problem of the closed mindset prevailing in the public sector proves to be difficult to resolve. And so, in many ways, the adoption of open data “isn’t a hardware retirement issue, it’s an employee retirement one” [6].
Resistance to change is not the only barrier hindering in the adoption of open data. A hurdle that is commonly encountered by open data advocates is that civil servants perceive open data as an additional workload that lacks clear justification [7, p. 70]. Unlike citizens that are allowed to do everything that is not prohibited, public servants are allowed to do only what law and policies order them to do. Voluntary adoption of open data at the lower levels of public administration is thus highly unlikely. It requires a policy to push open data through.
However, it might be for the existing policies that the change is made difficult. In general, the public sector is a subject to special obstacles that impede adoption of new technologies. For example, the combination of strict data handling procedures and constricted possibilities due to limited budget resources may effectively stop any technological change [7]. That is why there must by a strong commitment to open data on the upper levels of the public sector in order to put through the necessary amendments to existing data handling policies.

Technology maturity

Semantic web technologies underlying linked data were for a long time thought of as not being ready for adoption in the enterprise settings and in the public sector. In 2010, linked data technology stack was not perceived to be ready for large-scale adoption in the public sector. John Sheridan reports three key things missing [8]:
  • Repeatable design patterns
  • Supportive tools
  • Commoditization of linked data APIs
At that time, standards were mature enough, but their translation to repeatable design patterns applicable in practice was lacking. This has changed since. Several sources recommend established design patterns (e.g., [9], [10], [11]), supportive tools were developed and packaged (e.g., LOD2 Stack), and frameworks for developing custom APIs based on linked data were created (e.g., Linked Data API mentioned in a previous blog post). Linked data has matured progressively in the recent years and so it may be argued that it is ready to be implemented at the level of the public sector.


  1. HOGAN, Aidan; CYGANIAK, Richard. Frequently observed problems on the web of data [online]. Version 0.3. November 13th, 2009 [cit. 2012-04-23]. Available from WWW: http://pedantic-web.org/fops.html
  2. ALANI, Harith; CHANDLER, Peter; HALL, Wendy; O’HARA, Kieron; SHADBOLT, Nigel; SZOMSZOR, Martin. Building a pragmatic semantic web. IEEE Intelligent Systems. May—June 2008, vol. 23, iss. 3, p. 61 — 68. Also available from WWW: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/265787/1/alani-IEEEIS08.pdf. ISSN 1541-1672. DOI 10.1109/MIS.2008.42.
  3. 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
  4. GRAY, Jonathan. The best way to get value from data is to give it away. Guardian Datablog [online]. December 13th, 2011 [cit. 2011-12-14]. Available from WWW: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/datablog/2011/dec/13/eu-open-government-data
  5. VAN DEN BROEK, Tijs; KOTTERINK, Bas; HUIJBOOM, Noor; HOFMAN, Wout; VAN GRIEKEN, Stefan. Open data need a vision of smart government. In Share-PSI Workshop: Removing the Roadblocks to a Pan-European Market for Public Sector Information Re-use [online]. 2011 [cit. 2012-03-09]. Available from WWW: http://share-psi.eu/submitted-papers/
  6. DUMBILL, Edd (ed.). Planning for big data: a CIO’s handbook to the changing data landscape [ebook]. Sebastopol: O’Reilly, 2012, 83 p. ISBN 978-1-4493-2963-1.
  7. HALONEN, Antti. Being open about data: analysis of the UK open data policies and applicability of open data [online]. Report. London: Finnish Institute, 2012 [cit. 2012-04-05]. Available from WWW: http://www.finnish-institute.org.uk/images/stories/pdf2012/being%20open%20about%20data.pdf
  8. ACAR, Suzanne; ALONSO, José M.; NOVAK, Kevin (eds.). Improving access to government through better use of the Web [online]. W3C Interest Group Note. May 12th, 2009 [cit. 2012-04-06]. Available from WWW: http://www.w3.org/TR/egov-improving/
  9. SHERIDAN, John; TENNISON, Jeni. Linking UK government data. In BIZER, Christian; HEATH, Tom; BERNERS-LEE, Tim; HAUSENBLAS, Michael (eds.). Li
    nked Data on the Web: proceedings of the WWW 2010 Workshop on Linked Data on the Web, April 27th, 2010, Raleigh, USA
    . Aachen: RWTH Aachen University, 2010. CEUR workshop proceedings, vol. 628. ISSN 1613-0073.
  10. DODDS, Leigh; DAVIS, Ian. Linked data patterns [online]. Last changed 2011-08-19 [cit. 2011-11-05]. Available from WWW: http://patterns.dataincubator.org
  11. HEATH, Tom; BIZER, Chris. Linked data: evolving the Web into a global data space. 1st ed. Morgan & Claypool, 2011. Also available from WWW: http://linkeddatabook.com/book. ISBN 978-1-60845-430-3. DOI 10.2200/S00334ED1V01Y201102WBE001.
  12. HYLAND, Bernardette; TERRAZAS, Boris Villazón; CAPADISLI, Sarven. Cookbook for open government linked data [online]. Last modified on February 20th, 2012 [cit. 2012-04-11]. Available from WWW: http://www.w3.org/2011/gld/wiki/Linked_Data_Cookbook

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