Open Data

Governments and international institutions are beginning to publish the raw data that they hold about their work in a way that can be freely reused. Open data is now being made available on everything from government expenditure to crime and transport. Programmers and activists are collaborating to build online tools that reuse and visualise open data. It promises a new era of radical transparency and accountability as citizens and interest groups put this data to use. In the UK, as part of the Big Society agenda, public bodies in the UK are required to be more transparent and to publish more open data.

What are the implications?

  • A data-deluge of information about all aspects of public services.
  • Increased scrutiny of government, initially focused on government expenditure but focusing increasingly on outcomes as more data is published.
  • The largest user of open data is likely to be governments themselves – for instance local councils and government departments will be able to compare their costs.
  • Charities and private sector firms delivering public services will face calls for a similar level of openness (see expectations of evidence).
  • Some charities will choose to publish their spending data in more detail to build the trust of their donors.
  • Data sets will be “mashed up” and combined in new ways - for instance mapumental - which combines house price data with commuting times by public trransport.  
  • The politicisation of data - there will be debate about what should be collected by governments, what should made freely available, and how it should be funded.
  • Valuable data such as the Ordnance Survey mapping and geo-data available for free re-use under the open government license.
  • New tools giving individuals access to the data such as Where Does My Money Go? an online tool for analysing UK government expenditure, and Openly Local for local government.    

Moving Forward

How can you take advantage of this data deluge?

  • Can you use open data as an evidence base for your campaigning and policy work?
  • Does your organisation have the relevant IT and statistics skills to use open data effectively?
  • Does the data show areas of the country where your services are most needed? How can you take advantage of these opportunities?
  • Could you use open data to help improve the service you offer to your beneficiaries?
  • Is there data relevant to your organisation on exisiting data stores like or

How will you respond if your charity is asked to be more transparent?

Want to know more?

Open Data and the Voluntary Sector

Published by: NCVO

Date: August 2010

Format: Web

What is it? A blog post by David Kane, Research Development Officer at the NCVO.

How useful is this? This blog post serves as a good introduction to open data for the voluntary sector. It explores some of the implications of open data for the charity sector and the links to other policy areas such as the Big Society.

Open Knowledge Definition

Published by: Open Knowledge Foundation - a charity campaiging for open knowledge and data

Date: 2010

Format: Web

What is it? A definition of Open Data, listing 11 criteria that data must be met to be considered open.

How useful is this? This is useful because it provides a standard definition, which will be useful for anyone considering creating open data. It outlines both the technical requirements for open data - being based on non-proprietary file formats for instance, as well as addressing legal and licensing issues.

Open Public Data: Then What?

Published by: Open Knowledge Foundation

Date: 2011

Format: Web

What is it? An article exploring three alternative futures of open data, written by Daniel Kaplan, the director of FING, a French non-profit that studies the future of the internet.

How useful is this? As well as presenting the best outcome hoped for by open data campaigners, it also provides two alternatives - one where open data increases inequalities and is used to limit the activities of the public sector, and one where data fatigue sets in, the data never becomes useful to the public and is only used by lobbyists. Happily, the article also includes some suggestions about how to make these two outcomes less likely.

Last updated at 17:12 Fri 04/Feb/11.

Recent comments

Pete's picture


Third Sector Foresight

I didn't want to make this article too geeky and about research data, but right on cue, a group of "major public funding agencies, charitable foundations and international organisations" funding health research today published a statement promising to start sharing research data to improve public health. The signatories include major funders such as the Wellcome Trust and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

It is not explicitly clear that they will make the data "open" rather than just sharing amongst themselves, but it is surely a step in the right direction. The full statement articulates some great arguments for open data, summarised in three key benefits: faster progress in improving health, better value for money and higher quality science

Join the discussion!

How will this affect your organisation? Have you considered it during your strategic planning? Can you share any interesting relevant links?

Log in or join for free to comment.