Open data set to reshape charity and activism in 2016


In 2015 the EU launched the world’s first international data portal, the Chinese government pledged to make state data public, and the UK lost its open data crown to Taiwan. Troves of data were unlocked by governments around the world last year, but the usefulness of much of that data is still to be determined by the civic groups, businesses and governments who use it. So what’s in the pipeline? And how will the open data ecosystem grow in 2016? We asked the experts.

1. Data will be seen as infrastructure
Heather Savory, deputy national statistician for Data Capability, Office for National Statistics

Last year was the year that the data revolution got serious. Data plays a key role in our everyday lives, whether it is using open data on travel times to work out the most efficient way to get somewhere; a small business using data to inform their expansion; or central government making-better informed policy and operational decisions. This year will be the year when data is seen as infrastructure, the building blocks of everything we do.

We will continue to see the benefits that data brings, while the proliferation of data being created and made open for everyone to use makes 2016 an exciting year. Statisticians, data scientists, and others working across the government statistical service and Office for National Statistics will increasingly draw out more efficient, better statistics, using a variety of data sources, which will help us all make better decisions. 2015 is the year when the data revolution took off. 2016 has the potential for us to show the world how much better Britain can be as a result.

2. Journalists, charities and civil society bodies will embrace open data
Hetan Shah, executive director, the Royal Statistical Society

This will be the year we see the demand side for open data really take off. In particular we are seeing the rise of data journalism – the quality of entries we get for our statistical excellence in journalism awards are getting better and better.

Civil society bodies are also becoming more data literate. There will be more fact checking than ever before, with bodies such as Full Fact using open data sources to hold government to account. Charities will use open data to link together the numbers on issues that are of concern to us all such as climate change, social mobility and health, helping us to gain a better understanding of our world.

3. Activists will take it upon themselves to create data
Pavel Richter, chief executive, Open Knowledge International
We will see a move from supply-driven to demand-driven open data. Activists will use new tools and methods to create data where it is missing.

For a long time, open data was about availability and accessibility of (governmental) datasets. And as can be seen in the Global Open Data Index, there is still a lot to do in this regards.

But I see a shift towards a more demand-driven approach happening: working with NGOs in different areas previously outside the classical scope of open data, we identify their needs for open data and help them to satisfy them. What started with Openstreetmap and Wikipedia is happening all over the place now: instead of waiting for corporations or governments to open their data vaults, communities and activists create and curate the data they want and need on their own.

4. Data illiteracy will come at a heavy price
Sir Nigel Shadbolt, principal, Jesus College, Oxford, professorial research fellow in computer science, University of Oxford and chairman and co-founder of the Open Data Institute

Data literacy will become paramount for companies, governments and individuals. For example, appreciating the differences between open, closed, shared, personal, non-personal and variously anonymised data will become essential. Different types of data complement each other. Personal data integrated with non-personal, open data can deliver great applications in areas such as transport, retail, health, etc. However, these different forms of data in different contexts will have different terms of use. Understanding how to blend and integrate them is fundamental.

Not least because the new general European data regulations are almost certain to be approved by the EU parliament later this month. They will become law across the EU from 2018. There will be more rigorous regulations for getting consent to collect data, increasing the age of consent from 13 to 16 years old, removing information from company servers when Right to be Forgotten requests are granted, requiring companies to tell EU authorities if a data breach occurs within 72 hours of its occurrence. Failure to comply could result in companies being fined up to 4% of their global revenue. Data illiteracy will come at a heavy price.

5. We’ll create better tools to build a web of data

Dr Elena Simperl, associate professor, electronics and computer science, University of Southampton, coordinator of Odine (sponsors of the Guardian’s editorially independent coverage of the open data economy)

A few years ago the open data debate was all about publishing: should data be published openly? How do we protect people’s privacy? What datasets should we release and how? Then as governments bought into the idea, we started thinking about reuse, about the best ways to create added value, for the data publishers themselves, but also for others through new digital products and services. Odine is part of that trend.

Looking into the future we now have a better understanding of how disruptive open data can be for innovation, but we also realise that open data is just one part of a bigger picture, in which some data will be free to be reused, but other sources will be proprietary. The technical challenges of such data ecosystems are starting to be better understood. This year I expect to see advances in the technology needed to build this “web of data”, from tools to search for the data you need to interfaces to understand what the data captures, and which parts of it may need protection to preserve privacy.

The Open Data Institute, Open Knowledge International, the University of Southampton and the Guardian are members of the Odine consortium.

This article first appeared on the Guardian.