Getting your head around open data

This is one of a series of guest blog posts on topics relevant to public services in Wales, written by Ben Proctor.

Open data is simply data that anyone can access, use or share. Data, in this context, could be any piece of information. The Open Data Institute has a helpful guide to open data.

Most data is not open. Data might be closed (locked within an organisation or a department), shared (available to people by agreement or because they are in particular roles) or open (where anyone can access it, use it or share it). The Open Data Institute calls this the Data Spectrum.

To be open data has to be published (on a website for example) but publishing it is not enough. To be open it has to have a licence which makes it clear that anyone can use or share it. This means that it isn’t possible to charge people for open data. The format that data is published in also has an impact on how useful it is by different groups of people. There are other factors that can affect how useful open data is. Sir Tim Berners-Lee has described a star-rating system for more and more useful open data

Any organisation that owns data can choose to open it. In the UK, parts of the public sector have opened lots of their data. You can find lots of open data from the UK government on the portal. In Wales the Welsh Government has published an open data plan and set up a website to make it easier to find geographical data

A key argument for opening data is that it enables people to build services using that data. Because people don’t need to build the infrastructure to collect the data this means services can be delivered much quicker and it enables more innovation. It is not all a one-way street. As people build services on a dataset, they frequently clean and improve the data, spot errors, and mix it with other datasets to generate unique insights. Many public bodies publish open data with the aim of enabling innovative services. Many private companies are also publishing open data for the same reasons. Jeni Tennison (now Chief Executive of the Open Data Institute) wrote about open data business models a few years ago

Some examples of services built, at least in part, on open data include:

  • City Mapper which gets people around London using a combination of open data from Transport for London, its own data and algorithms
  • Mastodon C which has published insights into antibiotic prescribing based on open data 

There is a thriving community working with open data across the UK. Regular Open Data Camps are held, the most recent taking place in Cardiff in February 2017.  At that camp there was a workshop on Open Data for beginners which is written up here

What are your thoughts on Open Data, and how it could help government and public services in Wales?

Ben is the Technical Director of ODI-Cardiff. ODI Cardiff is the Open Data Institute node in Wales and is working to enable innovation with data across Wales and beyond. He is also a director of The Satori Lab. Linkedin. Medium.

GovCamp Cymru 2017 is happening on 14th October.  Join the conversation online on the GovCamp Cymru Slack. (New to Slack?) Join the mailing list for ticket releases, the first batch will be available on Monday 26th June, 10:00am. Find us on twitter and Facebook!

Do you fancy contributing a guest blog post on a topic relevant to public services in Wales? Get in touch with

One thought on “Getting your head around open data

  1. If the licence asks everyone who reuses that data to share the source code of any derivatives too, does that count as open data? Or is that a restriction?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *