Open Data

Open data are the building blocks of open knowledge. Open data becomes open knowledge when it is made useful, usable and is used.

The key features of open data are:

  • Availability and access: the data must be available as a whole and at an affordable reproduction cost, ideally as a free online download. The data must also be in a convenient and modifiable format.
  • Reuse and redistribution: the data must be provided under terms that permit reuse and redistribution including combination with other datasets. The data must be machine-readable.
  • Universal participation: everyone must be able to use, reuse and redistribute – there should be no discrimination according to intended use of the data or against persons or groups. For example, ‘non-commercial’ restrictions that would prevent ‘commercial’ use, or restrictions of use for certain purposes (e.g. only in education), are not allowed.

Read the full Open Definition.

What kinds of open data are there?

There are many kinds of open data that are generated in different contexts and have different applications:

  • Cultural: data about cultural works and artefacts, for example titles and authors, which is generally collected and held by galleries, libraries, archives and museums.
  • Science: data produced as part of scientific research from astronomy to zoology.
  • Finance: data such as government accounts (expenditure and revenue) and information on financial markets (stocks, shares, bonds etc).
  • Statistics: data produced by statistical offices such as the census and key socioeconomic indicators.
  • Weather: the many types of information used to understand and predict the weather.
  • Environmental: information related to the natural environment such presence and level of pollutants, the quality and rivers and seas.
  • Transport: data such as timetables, routes, on-time statistics.

Why should we open data?

Why should data be open? The answer, of course, depends somewhat on the type of data. However, there are common reasons such as:

  • Transparency: In a well-functioning, democratic society, citizens need to know what their government is doing. To do that, they must be able freely to access government data and information and to share that information with other citizens. Transparency isn’t just about access, it is also about sharing and reuse – to understand data, it needs to be analyzed and visualized, and this requires that the material is openly accessible.
  • Releasing social and commercial value: In a digital age, data is a key resource for social and commercial activities. Everything from finding your local post office to building a search engine requires access to data, much of which is created or held by governments. By opening up data, governments can help drive the creation of innovative business and services that in turn put social and commercial value back into the system.
  • Participation and engagement: Much of the time citizens are only able to engage with their own government sporadically – maybe just at an election every 4 or 5 years. By opening up data, citizens can stay better informed and be more directly involved in decision-making. This is more than transparency: it’s about making a full “read/write’ society, in which citizens are more than just aware of what is happening in the process of governance, they are able to contribute to it.

The Open Data Handbook

For a more complete look at open data including a detailed guide on how to open data and a glossary of key terms, download a PDF of the Open Data Handbook or read it online.

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