Many individuals and organisations collect a broad range of different types of data in order to perform their tasks. Government is particularly significant in this respect, both because of the quantity and centrality of the data it collects, but also because most of that government data is public data by law, and therefore could be made open and made available for others to use.
There are many areas where we can expect open data to be of value, and where examples of how it has been used already exist. There are also many different groups of people and organisations who can benefit from the availability of open data, including government itself. At the same time it is impossible to predict precisely how and where value will be created in the future. The nature of innovation is that developments often comes from unlikely places.
Why should data be open? The answer, of course, depends somewhat on the type of data. However, there are three common reasons:
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.
2. Releasing social and commercial value
In the 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.
3. Participation and engagement
Participatory governance or for business and organizations engaging with your users and audience. 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.