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Arguments

Page history last edited by Tim Davies 11 years, 3 months ago

Some arguments against open data, debunked

 

Having trouble persuading your managers of the benefits of open data? Or just need persuading yourself? Well, here we are compiling some counter-arguments for putting the case for open data. (Many thanks to Dan Slee and Stuart Harrison for compiling this document initially.) Edited highlights will be published periodically on the Local Data blog.

 

This is our data. We collected it. Not the public

If the data was collected by public funded employees then the public has an argument to see it.

 

The Freedom of Information Act sets out the principle that public services should be open with their information and data. The principle is already established. Open data is simply about pro-active implementation of the public right to data generated in the activities of democratic governance. 

 

We don't like risks. It'll be a massive risk to make data public.

The way the wind is blowing, it's more of a risk not to start freeing up data. You'll appear reactionary and look as though you'll have something to hide. Besides, the driver for this is 10 Downing Street.

 

Yes, there may be challenges in the short term. In the long term it can lead to better and more accountable government, through transparency and promoting new forms of citizen engagement and collaboration with councils.

 

Releasing data can also be an opportunity for government to engage with citizens in new ways: developing the conversation about what government does and providing the raw materials for social action. 

 

There will be an outcry about private data being released. We have to be very careful about protecting children and vulnerable people.

This isn't about personal data. This isn't about individuals. It's about communities. We are not looking to release personal information.

 

You could start by sharing datasets with details of open access services. There are many datasets with no privacy implications at all. 

 

As you come to releasing data about specialist services and datasets derived from personal data you may need to think carefully about protecting privacy: but the majority of privacy concerns should already be addressed by your data protection policies and data handling processes. 

 

It's too difficult to release data.

For web managers and other web-savvy people it is easy to create a file that can be posted in a format that is classed as 'open data' - a CSV file, for example.

 

There are even tools like Google Spreadsheets which make it easy to upload your data and share it. The central government initiatives have taken a 'Just Do It' experimental approach to releasing data: sharing it quickly, and improving it bit-by-bit, rather than trying to get everything perfect first. 

 

There is no universal standard for releasing data. If we do it now our work will be obsolete.

The barrier to involvement is very low, you already have the data - it's trivial to save an Excel document as CSV and put it up on the web, or extract a KML file from your GIS system. Standards can come later.

 

It's fine for the White House and 10 Downing Street. We're local government. We struggle to deliver frontline services, let alone this.

The release of data should not distract from frontline work. It can offer an opportunity to develop and improve frontline services. 

 

It'll help you do your job more easily and be transparent in what you are doing. Besides, the moves are to make the release of data a requirement.

 

Data is only of interest to geeks and people sat in their bedrooms.

People said that about social media too. Now, the use of sites such as Facebook and Twitter are soaring. And geeks can build great applications for the rest of us to use.

 

Ordinary people don't understand a CSV file so why bother?

Right now you need to be a geek to build an application with data. You don't to understand the end result.

 

As technology advances, the barriers for creating an application come down. Think of what Windows did to put computers into the hands of everyday people.

 

It's also not just about building applications: many people can open a CSV file in Excel and explore it. Community groups planning their services; businesses thinking about where to locate; and even people in other departments or tiers of local government will benefit from being able to glance at and explore data. If you only publish your 'information' then you massively limit the possible uses of the important data assets you hold (see 'Data' in depth page).

 

There is no business case for doing this so why bother?

There's no business case for a lot of things, but we still do them. Why clean streets? Why collect bins? Data is at the heart of what we do, council tax payers have a right to see the data that their money pays for. It can also cut down on expensive FOI requests and also gives the community the raw materials to perhaps show us how to work better.


This doesn't have the backing of responsible people.

Yes, it does. The US government and the UK government are in favour. The LGA has been supportive of open data projects. So is SOCITM.

 

What about Copyright and Intellectual Property?

There are already a number of 'Open Data' licenses available that allow you to either dedicate data to the public domain, or to retain your IP rights over a dataset, whilst explicitly allowing other people to re-use the data in useful ways. Data.gov.uk have adopted open licenses for many datasets (working towards more datasets being available under open licenses). 

 

A new license is being created to allow for information to be repurposed. (<--Is this something the local data panel is working on?)

What if the data we release is wrong? Will we face mass legal action?

With the right disclaimers local government can protect itself from legal action.

 

When you publish data, if you provide a clear way for people to contact you with any questions or concerns about the accuracy, you can make updates to the data when necessary. If you are unsure about the quality of data you are releasing - simply explain the limitations of the data when you publish it. You may find that re-users of the data are able to contribute to improving it's accuracy - with their improvements feeding positively back into your own. 

 

This will raise expectations to unreasonable levels won't it?

Expectations are rising day by day. It's important that local government plays a part. The expectations now on local government are so low that simply taking part is enough.

 

Releasing data helps to meet the expectation that government will be more transparent and accountable. 

 

Releasing data can support the development of more collaborative ways of working between local government and local citizens - supporting shared action to meet rising expectations and increasing citizen understanding of, and proactive engagement with the challenges of local government. 

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