Driving force

Catherine Stihler, Chief Executive of the Open Knowledge Foundation, explains how open data can help drive innovation

The Open Knowledge Foundation wants to see enlightened societies around the world, where everyone has access to key information and the ability to use it to understand and shape their lives.

A big part of how we have worked to achieve this over the past 15 years is by helping grow people’s understanding of how open data can be harnessed to create open knowledge for the benefit of all.

Open data is data which can be “freely used, modified, and shared by anyone for any purpose”, according to the Open Definition which my organisation first created in 2005.

Releasing data openly helps encourage innovation anywhere and everywhere by removing hurdles or legal obstacles that can so often stand in the way of data being used. Publishing data using internationally-recognised tools such as the leading open-source CKAN platform – used by the UK, US and many other government bodies – can also help to ensure that data is discoverable as well as being available in formats that can easily be utilised by start-ups either by being downloaded without any restrictions or via an API.

According to a study by the European Data Portal, the open data market across Europe will grow to be worth €325 billion by 2020, up from €55.3 billion in 2016. But still, our research has found that a lot of government data is not published openly, holding back progress.

Despite this, huge strides have been made and it is great to see so much public data in the UK released under licences like the Open Government Licence, just one of those available which comply with the Open Definition and which ensure that the data can be used without limits.

But, in our experience, data release or publication is only the first step towards creating a vibrant data ecosystem. Beyond publication, a lot of work is needed to provide the training and tools awareness that can help organisations and individuals harness data to create insight and advance their work as well as to understand any risks which might arise. And once businesses become data-driven, it becomes even more important that you can check and validate data you are using before passing on errors to your users.

Open data advocates like the Open Knowledge Foundation have spent a decade or more grappling with these issues around data publication, use, validation and licencing. I hope now that the next decade will see the development of lots of businesses building on top of the datasets, tools and standards that came before them, helping to reinforce the case for more and better open data to help us all create open knowledge for all.


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