Unleashing the Potential of Open Data

04 May 2015

Open Data is a new buzz word; the world is coming up with policies, frameworks, and strategies around successful implementation of Open Data. There have been many reasons cited in numerous reports behind this new dynamic movement pointing out that many research organisations are dedicated to explore Open Data. The most prominent reason that data is the new resource of the knowledge economy. Data is seen as the raw material that will drive this economy. That is why it is sometimes called the new gold or oil of the future. 

The Open Knowledge Foundation defines the following as the key components of the open data:

  • Availability and Access: the data must be available as a whole, at no more than a reasonable reproduction cost, preferably by downloading over the internet. The data must also be available in a convenient and modifiable form.
  • Reuse and Redistribution: the data must be provided under terms that permit reuse and redistribution including the intermixing with other datasets.
  •  Universal Participation: everyone must be able to use, reuse and redistribute - there should be no discrimination against fields of endeavour or against persons or groups. For example, ‘non-commercial’ restrictions that would prevent ‘commercial’ use, or restrictions of use for certain purposes (e.g. only in education), are not allowed.

Clearly open data is not just about accessibility of data; it is data that can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone. The Open Knowledge Foundation have emphasised that open data is about 1) keeping it simple, 2) engage early and engage often and 3) access common fears and misunderstandings.

  • Open government data is increasing in importance for the following reasons:
  • Transparency. In a well-functioning, democratic society citizens need to know what their government is doing. To do that, they must be able freely to access government data and information and to share that information with other citizens. Transparency isn’t just about access, it is also about sharing and reuse — often, to understand material it needs to be analyzed and visualized and this requires that the material be open so that it can be freely used and reused.
  • Releasing social and commercial value. In a digital age, data is a key resource for social and commercial activities. Everything from finding your local post office to building a search engine requires access to data, much of which is created or held by government. By opening up data, government can help drive the creation of innovative business and services that deliver social and commercial value.
  • Participatory Governance. Much of the time citizens are only able to engage with their own governance sporadically — maybe just at an election every 4 or 5 years. By opening up data, citizens are enabled to be much more directly informed and involved in decision-making. This is more than transparency: it’s about making a full “read/write” society, not just about knowing what is happening in the process of governance but being able to contribute to it.

African Ideas is an active player in the open data space - both in the space of strategy and advisory, as well as having sponsored several open data projects of our own.

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