Wednesday, 25. May 2016

The Open Data Delusion

I first met Gail Ramster in 2010 at an event about the release of London-wide Open Data by the Greater London Authority. A researcher on “toilet usability,” she was trying to gather public data to compile a list of toilets accessible to elderly people. Six years later I met Gail again, this time at her office at the Royal College of Art, to discuss her experience. The past 5 years have been for me a whirlwind of Open Data advocacy; first working to increase awareness of Open Data in academia, then as a ministerial adviser in the now defunct Open Data User Group – or ODUG, an advisory panel at the UK Government Cabinet Office. ODUG operated in 2012-2015 to help the Government prioritize data releases, assign funding, and produce policy recommendations. In those three years, one of the most curious things I learned was that toilets are among the most requested datasets. A project to allow Local Authorities to release toilet locations was one of the recipients of the Release of Data Fund (see: Local Government Data Incentive Scheme), which we administered. When I tell Gail that I believe toilet data is representative of the whole Open Data parable, she laughs: “It’s all very fragmented.” In fact, despite a lot of work by and with the Government, in 2016, we still have little assurance about data quality, frequency of the releases, reliability of schemas, conflicting standards, and teething issues with licensing.

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