Canada Open Data effort: the case for Open Data

the challenges and benefits of open data

Today (2018-06-21), I was on a conference call online panel on open data and how Canadian companies and not-for-profits are contributing to the open data ecosystem, featuring practitioners from Thomson-Reuters, Startup Canada, IVADO and held by The Open Government team of the Canadian government (Chief Information Officer Branch, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat) aka

Mostly, my question was how to help my contacts in the corporate, educational and local civic sector (both government and NGOs) to not only make use of open data but to also become sources of open data. Working and living in my ultra-connected software and information design universe, I am always a little surprised how hard it is to explain to "outsiders" why somebody in their right mind and following sane and traditional legal or administrative doctrine would ever want to share data with others for free.

So, it was refreshing and useful to hear the panel discuss exactly that head-on, and in a very practical and relevant way.

Here is what I got out of the discussion:

The case Against

boils down to fear, cost, and inertia:

  • compliance
  • privacy concerns
  • loss of opportunity (to monetize)
  • possible embarrassment
  • future legal unintended consequences
  • costs
  • uncertainty around licensing
  • cost of being wrong higher than benefit of being right
  • cost of managing external dialogue around published open data

On one hand, these are all valid concerns, but it is worth digging past the cliches to understand what exactly the costs and risks are, on the other, and not surprisingly, the above are also the standard excuses for continuing to do things the way we have always done them,

For instance, just about every organization has privacy concerns about releasing any kind of information to anybody, but being forced to understand what part of what data has what privacy issues may be a very valuable exercise in that it will elevate the organization's competence and agility around working with the data. Also, in the process of clarifying privacy issues, one may learn that a surprisingly large amount of data could be shared.

It takes some effort to distinguish resistance to change from diligence and to look for possible solutions in order reap the possible benefits which are ...

The case For

ignoring the benefit to the consumer (which are irrelevant with respect to promoting production) , the case FOR (the producer) are not often laid out clearly, but understanding these really is the core:

  • building trust (nothing to hide), especially when providing quality un-spun low level data
  • making existing (including revenue generating) offerings more valuable
  • forces higher internal level of discipline around data management and data quality
  • published data tends to get better because it has to answer to scrutiny by knowledgable outsiders
  • published data finds new uses which creates new opportunities for the publisher
  • demonstrates competence and ability to innovate
  • starting point for discussion and evolution towards more useful data, services, or partnerships

On Quality

If you have decent useful data and it is part of your core business, then being clear about the quality and nature of the data will tell you whether or not it could be shared and how. if you own decent useful data and it is NOT part of your core business, then why would you not share that? if you have data that is not useful or of decent quality ... why exactly would you keep that?

Some of the Challenges are

  • standard (or lack of) around format and quality
  • uncertainty around past, current, and future licensing issues
  • cost of publishing, indexing, distribution and maintaining published data sets including recall and change control
  • integration into existing data sets or data sets from other sources across time

In Summary

Not all data can or should be open, but experience shows that putting open data into the world creates some amazing opportunities for consumer AND producer, partially due to the ensuing dialog around the published data.

There is a cost, but organizations which want to innovate and evolve will tend to have well managed useful data for their own sake. They will also embrace the challenge of learning how to share it because of what valuable insights they will learn along the way about the data and its value to others.

Along the way, the organization cements its place as a competent, valuable and dependable partner in an interdependent network of information sources.