posted on July 27, 2012 18:03
The number of events being organised around the topic of open data is increasing almost as quickly as the number of regional and national government portals that offer data. Open government data is at the heart of a movement that must surely be set to mark a significant evolutionary change in the way that governments and citizens engage with each other.
Crossover's own event (PMOD, described in my previous post) saw a wide ranging discussion about the need to process and interpret raw data to turn it into something useful, meaningful and saleable. It was largely with that event in mind plus my experiences at a number of others this summer that I headed off to the idyllic Greek island of Samos. In case this sounds like a holiday I feel the need to record that I spent one sleepless night on the outward flight and a second sleepless night as I re-wrote and finalised my presentation… and there was no third night. No chance to dip so much as a toe in the oh so inviting pool or the even more inviting Aegean.
The Samos Summit brought several projects together including ENGAGE and NOMAD. Many of the themes we heard at PMOD were repeated but there were others too. Interoperability - it should be easy and, on one level, it is. But interoperability in some cases is a euphemism for the blurring of distinctions. Real data is messy and rarely fits into a data model, no matter how well it has been developed and how clear the accompanying UML diagram. So matching data models inevitably knocks a few more edges off and that may not always be advantageous or acceptable. And that's before you even mention multilingualism. The habit that the English language has of simply absorbing words from other languages rather than inventing its own is often cited as a strength (how would you describe something as 'taboo' without using that fine Polynesian word?) but as any translator will affirm, making two texts mean exactly the same thing in two different languages is nigh on impossible, so is true semantic interoperability attainable?
The Samos event again highlighted the fact that the open data enthusiasts' messages that open data is a universally good thing and that, since tax payers' money has been used to fund the curation of government held data, it must be made available for free, simply doesn't always wash. There are legitimate fears about what data will be used for once it has been released into the wild and there are equally legitimate and understandable concerns over how publication will be paid for.
What I found particularly interesting about the Samos Summit was the variety of interests represented. This was the only event I've been to so far where scientific data and enterprise data were being talked about alongside social media and open government data as all being part of the same field. As open data advocates repeat incessantly, data becomes more valuable if it is linked to other data sets. Open government data has been an engine for so much of this work but the possibilities that accrue by adding in scientific data, perhaps with environmental, agricultural and retail data are genuine exciting.
Open data isn't a flash in the pan. It's a new phenomenon that is going to have an increasing impact on all sorts of areas, including policy making.
There's more in my keynote speech (the one I finalised at 02:40!), from which I created a textual version.