Open data simply means information (data) that is readily available and accessible at any point in time by the general public with no ( or little) restriction. When this idea is extended to government it is about taken the vast majority of government datasets and information which doesn’t have privacy or security issues, and putting it all online (an easy and accessible) in in usable formats. This is very necessary for the public to be able to leverage such data at any point in time. And it would also serve as a source of input for inter-agency collaboration among government ministries. For instance if the Federal ministry of budget and national planning would highly benefit from the data coming from the federal ministry of finance as it sees relevant. Opening government data can lead to efficiency, and efficiency breeds productivity. It can also reduce the costs of aggregating data by the individual government MDAs.
For any open data to be useful (to the) in practical sense it must be;
Accurate: most importantly information provided should not be misleading, as this can be dangerous to the public and even on different agencies. It would also build a sense of trust on the part of the public and accountability on the part of the government. Accuracy would also warrant the data to be frequently updated.
Free: there should not be any restriction to the use of the data, a permissive copyright licenses like the Creative Common BY should be okay.
Time-stamped: this would provide a knowledge of when the data was generated, and when there is any change it should be identifiable.
Readable and available in an openly documented format: an open document standard should be adopted to ensure that there won’t be any software vendor lock-in or restriction when viewing it. And the public should be able to access and understand the relevant information provided.
Feedback: there should be a point of contact where the public can give feedback, complaining or suggestions or ask clarification.
Achieving open data is not a day’s job, and not rocket science either. There are some key step that can be taken in the open data journey:
- Get it online. This is when government organizations just try to get online whatever they can as soon as possible. Though at this stage many things like licensing, documentation format, and other necessities might not have been fully developed and sorted out. But it would serve as a foundational frame work that these organizations can build upon subsequently. Waiting for perfection before launch might become a stumbling block that could never be surmounted. A work-in-progress attitude should be a characteristic of this stage.
- Refine to high quality data. It is at this stage that more work is done. All the policy frame work and infrastructure required for a publishing quality open data are figured out and put in place. All in a bid to ensure that the process is sustainable. And then high quality data can then be published on a regular basis.
- Make collaboration possible. Finally, here government organizations can make out ways to integrate and verify inputs from the public to data sets to improve them, to capture historical data and cultural context and to keep information up to date. Though it is a little daunting, when these government agencies and departments engage the public collaboratively, we will see better data sets and greater innovation.
Many countries that have done a lot in the area of opening government data like Australia: (with data.gov.au, GovHack, ANAZACs13, etc), United States (data.gov), France (data.gouv.fr) and so on.
Though there is an effort on the part of the federal government to open data like the budget for example, a lot more need to be done in the other areas. And many states in the federation have not been able to domesticate or adopt open data policy at home. In any instance it is always good to consider all angles critically and thoughtfully.