Free Essay Collection Examines State of Open Data

Open wide …

Open data began as an idea. Since then, it has exploded into a movement, a label, a business model, an element of social change, a piece in the puzzle towards the ever-ardent project to improve human dignity and human quality-of-life. So, what is the open data movement today? What has it achieved over time? How has open data policy and practice shifted over the last 10 years? What can be learned from the past 10 years? How will open data fare in dealing with new challenges relating to democracy, climate, artificial intelligence?

The State of Open Data: Histories and Horizons, a collection of essays, “brings together more than 60 authors from around the world to address [such] questions and to take stock of the real progress made to-date across sectors and around the world.” The project was supported from inception to conclusion by the International Development Research Center (IDRC), and it was edited by Tim Davies, Stephen B. Walker, Mor Rubinstein, and Fernando Perini. The four editors have extensive backgrounds in open data: Perini, for example, is a senior program officer at IDRC and Walker has managed the International Open Data Conference (IODC) in years past. More information about the open data backgrounds of each editor can be found here.

“A decade ago,” the text opens, “open data was more or less just an idea, emerging as a rough point of consensus for action among pro-democracy practitioners, internet entrepreneurs, open source advocates, civic technology developers, and open knowledge campaigners. Calls for ‘open data now’ offered a powerful critique of the way in which governments and other institutions were hoarding valuable data paid for by taxpayers – data that if made accessible, could be reused in a myriad of different ways to bring social and economic benefits and democratic change.”

As the editors continue, “Ten years on, open data is much more than an idea.” Indeed, 10 years is a relatively short time, yet in 10 years the open data movement has experienced sizable growth, measurable success, and inevitable evolution. The U.S. Department of Commerce, for example, hosted the first International Open Data Conference in November 2010. By 2018, sessions at annual IODC events showed increasing nuance: threats to open data, notes on the movement as localized to specific fields, links between open data and sustainability.

The text can be accessed for free via this link.

The open data movement, meanwhile, has infiltrated beyond academe, as, for example, global development banks have integrated open data into their methodologies. Open data has been adopted as a central tool for a number of global policy initiatives; the OGP, the Sustainable Development Goals, the Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative, the Global Legal Entity Identifier Foundation, etc. have all embraced open data with their work. Entire businesses today are built upon open data. Civil societies and NGOs and other instruments of change use open data as part of their social change toolkits.

Despite the success of the movement, the editors note that the current period of open data should be marked by re-evaluation, not celebration. Since open data has been so widely integrated into global development (and local/private development) toolboxes, the movement has been exposed to much scrutiny. The editors list some key questions that are being asked: Does open data assist in social change? At what speed? Does it actually return on investment? What factors make open data changes impactful? Does open data work alongside goals such as sustainable development, gender equality, human rights, indigenous rights, and fair governance?

Amid the flurry of questions being asked of the open data movement, it seems important, now more than ever, to review the state of the open data movement and its impacts as far as social and economic development. By offering a broad overview of the open data movement’s first 10 years, the editors of The State of Open Data hope to provide an account that helps practitioners, policy-makers, community advocates, and anyone else in the open data movement, to progress the movement over the next 10 years. Click here to read more.

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Gus Wachbrit

Augustus Wachbrit (or, if you’re intimidated by his three-syllable name, Gus) is the Social Science Communications Intern at SAGE Publishing. He assists in the creation, curation, revision, and distribution of various forms of written content primarily for Social Science Space and Method Space. He is studying Philosophy and English at California Lutheran University, where he is a research fellow and department assistant. If you’re likely to find him anywhere, he’ll be studying from a textbook, writing (either academically or creatively), exercising, or defying all odds and doing all these things at once.

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