By Florian Weiser
For a world where knowledge creates power for the many, not the few “Open data will be the only way for small and medium enterprises to compete with the big players such as Google, Amazon, Facebook or Alibaba”, a professor in computational and social science from a leading technical university in Switzerland told me recently. Big data is a topic that has gained increased popularity over the last years. In a survey conducted by Gartner in the United States, 73% of organizations responded to have already invested in a big data strategy. Data is collected and used to find patterns in order to optimize and automate processes, to learn about customer behavior and to personalize products and services. This data is often used in a very proprietary way. Even the clients, who are producing the data through their behavior in the first place are often excluded from the use of them through the acceptance of terms and conditions in the purchasing contract. Opening up this data to the world in contrast creates the opportunity to share information within society. It can be used to improve social progress in countries. It enables citizens to hold their politicians, administrations and governments accountable. And it makes up a case for companies to open up and to foster innovation together within their ecosystems.
What is Open Data? The Open Knowledge Foundation is a global non-profit organization focused on realizing open data’s value to society by helping civil society groups access and use data to take action on social problems. In an effort to enable a discourse on the topic, they came up with the following definition for open data:
“Knowledge is open if anyone is free to access, use, modify, and share it — subject, at most, to measures that preserve provenance and openness.”
Often it is said that data is the new petroleum. This is why especially corporates use their data proprietary and keep it strictly from being opened and accessible for the public. However, in contrast to fossil fuels data can be multiplied indefinitely without further effort. In contrast to petroleum, data can be used by more people without diminishing the resource for others. This brings a big chance for data to be a decisive factor to share information and knowledge with everyone and to create functioning democratic societies. Open Data for strengthening democratic institutions In particular for democracy, transparency is a crucial ingredient. Especially in the case of corruption, an open data culture can be very helpful. Corruption not only centralizes the power within a country in the hands of a small group of people, it also comes with a large economic cost. Open data provides a way to hold governments and administrations accountable for their actions and to check if politicians actually consistently to what they promise. Through transparent processes, open budget and open spending data, governments can increase the barrier to corruption. In this is why many governments around the world started engaging in initiatives to publish government budgets and spendings. The European Union has created a platform for open data. An example of a government in Latin America that started the process of publishing open data would be Mexico.