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Let’s talk open data: The ODI and beyond

Jeremy Heywood|

This guest blog post was originally posted on the Guardian’s Transparency Hub, which is hosting a Live Q&A with Jeremy Heywood at 12-1pm GMT on 4 December 2012

At the Next Web conference in Amsterdam, Hilary Mason, chief scientist at Bitly, the URL redirection service, said open data was just a buzzword.

The launch of the Open Data Institute (ODI) on Tuesday 4 December is the antithesis to that view. Founded by the creator of the world-wide-web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt, professor of computer science at the University of Southampton, the institute aims to unlock enterprise and social value from the vast amount of open government data made available by the public services reform agenda.

We have to facilitate supply by providing “plumbing-like” processes and technology standards, says Gavin Starks, chair of the ODI. “Second, we need to make sure they are used. This means training people on what open data means, how to use it, and why it is valuable. Finally, we need to demonstrate value, nurturing organisations, new and old, to deliver positive change.”

The power of open data to drive economic growth and create prosperity is central to the government’s commitment to transparency, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude says. “The ODI, and the expert team assembled there, are already helping to foster a new generation of innovative businesses built on open data, and to develop the specialist skills among data technologists that will see the creation of new products and services,” he says.

User demand has grown since the establishment of an Open Data Institute was announced in the Chancellor’s autumn statement in 2011. Accountancy firm Deloitte found that between January 2010 and September 2012, demand for open data on, measured by the average number of page views for each dataset, has grown by 285%. Although doesn’t have the highest quantity of open data sites in comparison with the US or France, the site receives more daily visits than both and in the US.

But David Rhind and Hugh Neffendorf, members of the government’s advisory panel on public sector information (Appsi) argue that we need a more strategic approach to how public sector information should be reused. However, Starks is honest about a “culture of experimentation, to explore and discover what works, what is useful, what is surprising, and what may lead to unexpected results”, being nurtured by the ODI.

The online discussion with cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood aims to establish how the Open Data Institute will benefit users and policy making in practice. We want to know:

• How the ODI will “unlock” relevant, quality data at scale and how its effectiveness will be measured?

• How does the ODI define “useful” and “valuable” data?

• What the ODI’s approach to anonymised, confidential data will be?

• Is there a shortage of the information management and analytical skills needed to maximise the benefits of open data and should we regard data science as a key management discipline?

• Should government seek to generate revenue from licensing and add value to raw data? What data should remain freely available?

Image credit: ‘Cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood (left) will be answering questions on open data’ by Graeme Robertson via the Guardian

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