Open data is information that is available for anyone to use, for any purpose, at no cost – subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and share-alike.

Open data ranges across a wide variety of areas, fields of study and potential uses from statistical data produced by statistical offices such as the census and key socioeconomic indicators to environmental data such as level of pollutants in a particular region.

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It could also be scientific data produced as part of research from astronomy to zoology, cultural data collected and held by galleries, libraries, archives and museums, or public services data such as the performance of schools in England as released by the Department for Education.

The open data format allows web developers to access and re-use the content in innovative and effective ways via fast file transfer, creating websites and clever applications to disseminate the reams of information on offer in a digestible way.

How can it help?

Organisations in the data industry

The data industry’s bread and butter is selling access to data so open data might seem like the last route it would want to go down. But it is in fact widely deployed throughout the industry to entice customers to take up its paid-for data. This can be achieved in a number of ways from only providing a subset of their data as open data to requiring that people register to access the data. Another revenue stream is to sell services around open data. Because of their deep understanding of the data they hold, they can offer a unique level of insight into it.

Organisations in the public sector

For the public sector, open data is a tool by which it can increase transparency and engagement, and encourage social and commercial innovation. The open access to government data coupled with fast file transfer helps give people a clearer picture of what their government is doing and allows them the opportunity to become directly involved in the process through the freedom to analyse and visualise that data. This data can also highlight problem areas, which in turn can help drive the creation of services to tackle them, or provide the fuel for commercial ventures.

Organisations in the private sector

Publishing the data they hold as open data has many benefits for private sector businesses. It fosters collaboration between businesses and their customers and partners. This is particularly useful for business models that depend on their customers and partners to expand, i.e. app stores. It can help third parties to develop skills and services, which the organisation can contract, or buy out as in the case of Facebook and other tech giants, rather than developing in house. And it can help achieve other organisational goals by opening the business up to a wider audience through its published data.

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