The Global Open Data Initiative (GODI) is a coalition of civil society organisations sharing principles and resources to get the best value out of open data. Open data, at its simplest, is freely available government data that anyone can access, analyse and use. It has potential to be widely used by citizens and organisations to explore how to get the best out of cities.
The key principle behind the establishment of GODI is that government exists by and for the people. This means that any data that it collects should be freely available for anyone to use. Some people will, inevitably and rightly, use this data to hold governments to account, which goes some way to explaining why it is so hard to persuade governments of the merits of open data.
An organisation for open data
GODI’s work is across a number of areas, including:
- Acting as a global guiding voice on open data
This will ensure that organisations espousing open data do not feel isolated, but instead can discuss and share issues with others facing similar problems around the world.
- Developing and providing a vision for how governments should approach open data
GODI recommendations and resources will help local and national governments to develop pledges on open data, and then to put them into action. They will also help not-for-profit organisations seeking to evaluate government initiatives.
- Increasing awareness of open data and related issues
There are many issues and challenges to sharing data, and GODI will help raise awareness of them, and also how to overcome them. It will support networking and benchmarking and promote best practice in information sharing and open data provision.
- Supporting the development of the open data community
At the moment, not many organisations are engaging with open data, or grasping at the opportunities that it offers. GODI aims to build the global community working with open data by showing organisations how they can use it to develop strategic plans and improve operationally.
- Gathering, expanding and disseminating the evidence base on open data.
The academic community has started to define and deliver a research agenda, but there is still a shortage of information and resources about what works in open data. GODI aims to identify areas for further work, and build evidence-based policies and guidance. It will also draw together resources on open data, and make them widely available.
The current state of play
This all sounds very laudable, but is it working? A recent survey by GODI suggests that there is a long way to go yet. The survey had around 80 respondents in more than 30 countries, so should give a reasonable picture of the global open data situation.
Respondents generally agreed on the definition of open data as data released by governments, but there were question marks around the edges. Many saw governments release information only reluctantly, following freedom of information requests, and therefore suggested that open data was more a response to civil society organisations than a government initiative. Some respondents also suggested that data needed to be usable to count as ‘open’.
Many people appeared unaware that there were standards about open data. This may be because of language and translation issues, since this seemed to be a particular problem in Latin America. Several respondents also felt that the term ‘open data’ was a bit dry and boring.
The challenges were, unsurprisingly, politics, access to data, data quality and engagement. Government resistance to data release was much greater with politically sensitive information. Respondents noted that data were often isolated within government departments. There seem to be issues, too, about how data are presented to make them usable and helpful, with particular problems in Africa, where infrastructure and connectivity are lower.
Good news about community-building
On the plus side, most respondents supported the need for global networking, and felt that GODI had a role in building a community around open data, to help organisations to make best use of it. They would also like a place to connect with potential partners. They felt optimistic that an alliance like GODI could influence national and international views and practice on data sharing.
In general, respondents valued GODI’s work in all areas, and felt that it had potential. It does, however, look like there is still a lot of work to do before open data is more than just an ambition. Interested city administrators could well find potential partners through GODI, and also quickly find themselves a leading light on open data.
Image credit: Put a cork in it by Betty