Al Kags

The value of Open Data


Today, I have been thinking a great deal about Open Data and the value that would – or should (or maybe must) be assigned to Open Government Data. This is especially because dealing with government officials in Africa, I have found myself needing to make justification for Open Government Data by showing value to them for their countries. Of course, in reality, while transparency and accountability are true key drivers for opening data freely for use by the public, civil society organisations and others, often officials in Africa find this as the most unattractive reason for such initiatives.

On the other hand, most African countries are at a bullish stage of their lives where their economies are growing exponentially and their competitiveness is an important aspect of their focus. As I speak to government officials (both technorats and politicians), I focus on the other part of the truth behind the value of open data – that opening up data is linked to the speed of their development and their competitiveness. Even though this is quite true, and like I commented on David Eaves’ website, there could be real value in demonstrating empirically through a study, a linear co-relation between the release of data and the competitiveness of countries.

But then again, opening up data for public use is much like what Jindřich Mynarz says: its like building a road – which when you build, you have no idea what cars will use it, what real value people will derive from it – but then you know the obvious value that people will derive from the road – ease of traffic, faster commutes etc. In the same way, the obvious value of open data is used but the fundamental real benefit that the public will get from the data is up to everyone’s imagination.

We know that proactively releasing government data will help:-

  • create visualizations that communicate the information in various ways and related to various things in order to identify gaps and trends on which to make informed decisions about their quality of life.
  • These visualizations can help entrepreneurs identify gaps and couple it with other sets for market intelligence that could improve their ability to earn a living and provide a necessary service, as well as understand where and how to promote that service.
  • individuals and organizations to self-organize to solve an identified problem or improve a situation.
There is much to be said for evidence-based decision making but I wager we all have much to still learn about this concepts.

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