Are open data publishers doing enough?

Coming in the wake of and, there are now many cases of public bodies implementing initiatives to publish their open data; Lichfield Council, Open Kent, Vancouver’s Open Data Catalogue and The London Data Store are but a few examples.

Those tapping into the conversations going on around the globe on open data will be aware that one of the oft repeated challenges from data publishers to so called ‘armchair auditors’ is ‘Tell us what data sets you want..’. This in itself is laudable, but it does put the ball firmly in the court of the citizen to decide what information to request. It assumes that members of the public want to invest their time in reviewing spreadsheets which to the man in the street are frankly dull. How is a person not acquainted with the workings of a local authority, supposed to know what data is collected? Let alone come up with an imaginative use for the data that will somehow improve their lives or benefit the community. Sure there are such people out there, and new apps are being released each week that harness the power of open data. But are we, as data publishers, really offering enough to Joe Public to justify the amount of effort and resource that is now going into publishing open data?

Perhaps we need to stand back and re-examine what we are offering to our public. One of the more recent governments to commit to opening up their data is Kenya. The first African country to offer their open data on a website,, they have a team working across the government to address the hundreds of requests for data they are getting from citizens. Their approach is subtly different but effective. Have a look at this data set that was published in response to one request for information on the percentage of the population of a county using wood fuel versus the incidence of lung and respiratory problems.

Many of the requests for data on the site are not just for a data set, but for analysis on multiple data sets. The team just goes and does it! Not just publishing an open data set, but doing the mashup and presenting it nicely – just a step and a half away from development. They also provide a pretty decent visualisation tool on the site. Not even has one of those. The whole user experience seems to represent the next generation of open data web portals. Time to up our game perhaps?

Blog inspired by this article from Tariq Khokhar at the World Bank.

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