Open data is the idea that certain data (especially publically funded data) should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control.
When it comes to public sector datasets, open data can obviously be extremely useful to organisations and individuals, and luckily for people in Britain, the UK Government is leading the world in the way it releases information of this kind.
Data sets already made available in this way are being used by enterprises all of the country for a plethora of purposes in apps / websites etc.
For once, the UK comes out on top!
Recently, the Open Knowledge Foundation released an Open Data Index showing how well countries are performing when it comes to open data. The research was published ahead of the annual summit for the Open Government Partnership.
Britain came out particularly favourably in the analysis as it achieved the best score for open data, and just ahead of the USA. In total, 70 nations were included in the index and following the UK and US, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands achieved the highest scores. At the other end of the spectrum, Cyprus, St Kitts & Nevis, the British Virgin Islands, Kenya and Burkina Faso ranked the lowest.
The index places countries on the basis of the availability and accessibility of information in ten key areas, including election results, government spending, transport timetables and pollution levels.
Driving democracy and innovation
Commenting on the importance of open data, Open Knowledge Foundation chief executive officer Rufus Pollock said: “Opening up government data drives democracy, accountability and innovation. It enables citizens to know and exercise their rights, and it brings benefits across society: from transport, to education and health. There has been a welcome increase in support for open data from governments in the last few years.”
Open Data Institute
Doing its part for open data, the UK government has opened up thousands of documents via its data.gov.uk website and it has invested £10 million in the launch of the Open Data Institute. Commenting on this, David Cameron said: “You can now map the crime on your streets, see the standards in our schools and the performance in your hospitals. You can see the businesses and people that the government meets with, the names and roles of senior civil servants, not to mention the pay of most of our top officials.”
For information like this to make a real difference, it is vital that it is presented in suitable ways of course and Shoothill FloodAlerts is a great example of this. In collaboration with the Environment Agency, we created a map-based flood warning system that can be used by businesses and individuals alike.
Meanwhile, Crime Maps is another impressive use of open data. It enables people to check crime levels in particular areas. Using the resource, individuals and organisations can pinpoint the exact number of crimes that have occurred in certain areas and find out what sort of violations these were.
The future of Open Data
The realisation by the Government that as more data is released in this way, means not only less costs to it in distributing the data, but also more and more companies taking advantage of it and so boosting the economy (and creating more jobs).
At present, due to the cost of sourcing some datasets originally (geological surveys or maritime charts are expensive to produce) not all Government data is available under open data for developers like Shoothill, but it has to be said, that this is one area where we have to give a ‘hats off’ to the UK Government for really trying.