Imagine a world where vital information will enable individuals to become more occupied with their communities and more engaged in making their respective governments responsible. Such a world would not only be beautiful but also be a place with better transparency and civic innovation. Open Data, a new jargon but definitely not a new concept, can make this scenario possible.
So, what is Open Data?
To put it simply – it is similar to open-source software, only it is data instead of software. Data that is freely available, that can be republished or reused without copyright or patent restrictions can be considered open data. According to Joel Gurin, editor of OpenDataNow.com, open data is accessible public data that people, companies, and organizations can use to launch new ventures, analyze patterns and trends, make data-driven decisions, and solve complex problems. The extent, to which vital data can be disclosed for public access, makes open data a much discussed topic at various levels of governments in the developed and developing world.
Why is it important?
We could grasp the profound relevance of open data only when we get to know how open data impacts government policies and practices, innovation and other aspects such as consumer advocacy. The annual value of open data on the world economy was recently estimated by McKinsey and Company to top $3 trillion in one year (from seven sectors alone). Now, it is needless to say that, $3 trillion means a lot of headroom. The opportunity that this industry is opening up is enormous, both for the governments and private or public companies. McKinsey has estimated that educational industry will have the highest potential.
The incorporation of open data available with the government and a vast pool of social media data now offer a huge scope for federal agencies and government departments to identify the problems of citizens and interact with them more meaningfully. Many organizations like The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of New York City and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority have schemes lined up to examine various social media platforms for information that could improve their functioning like feedback on their service and threats against their officials. FEMA has found the opportunity to improve its emergency response after identifying social media outlets’ role in enabling people to reach out much faster during natural disasters to ask for help or report injuries and the vast pool of data hence created. They created an application that monitored Twitter activity and found out the levels of public sentiment and effectiveness of resource delivery to residents in New York and New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy.
Open government data proves to be a green signal for entrepreneurs and companies to make systems that reveal little known trends and utilize this data to further improve services.
How to analyze them?
Big data analysis is now happening globally. The same tools and techniques can be used to analyze open data. Hackathons is becoming a trending practice these days. Hackathons create an ecosystem for coders, data junkies, developers, and designers to explore better ways to deliver citizen services. Say, they are provided with the data from the department of transportation or railways. By analyzing all the data they can come up with patterns and predict delays or come up with better routing options. They can provide average delay per route, main reasons for these delays and even suggest options to lessen these delays.
So, is it truly open?
Not always, will be the answer. Making open data accessible to the public puts governments with the situation that ‘third parties’ can now do anything or rather manipulate this data, this is a huge stake and governments are actually taking measures to prevent this from happening. Many of these measures are still at the nascent stages of development. For example, US government requires its agencies to do stringent privacy and confidentiality checks before releasing data; they also have to take into account mosaic effect. Some of the current measures include limiting reuse, restricting combined reuse and restricting international reuse.
The opportunities that open data provides are no less. Though many government agencies release open data, they do so without consulting the companies or firms for which it should be useful. This may create release of irrelevant open data. However the scenario is changing in European countries like France and UK, and other countries like Mexico, where the agencies are trying to build feedback loops from data users to government data providers which will ultimately benefit the users.
With efforts being dropped in from every other corner, we could certainly hope that open data will play a major role in building great advancements in the fields of Health, Finance, Data journalism, Energy, Agriculture and more.