If you’ve ever checked an online weather forecast, used your smartphone’s GPS to find an all-night drugstore or calculated how much your city paid for road repairs, you’ve used Open Data. For a long time, however, accessing these government data were very difficult, if they were available at all.
Data are considered to be “open” if anyone can freely use, re-use and redistribute them, for any purpose, without restrictions.
The concept of Open Data is very new. It originated with the belief that the enormous amount of information routinely collected by government entities should be available to all citizens. In the late 2000s, governments and entities began to allow a greater number of users access to these resources. The first government policies on Open Data appeared in 2009. Today, more than 250 governments at national, subnational and city levels; almost 50 developed and developing countries; and entities such as the World Bank and United Nations have launched Open Data initiatives—and more are launched every year.
Data are considered to be “open” if anyone can freely use, re-use and redistribute them, for any purpose, without restrictions. While a large amount of data is published on government websites, the majority of published data is intended only to be read as stand-alone documents, not re-used for other purposes. To be considered “open,” the data must be re-usable, meaning they can be downloaded in open formats and read by software, and users have a legal right to re-use it.
When data are made widely available and easy to use, the benefits can be significant: They can help streamline government services, stimulate economic opportunities, encourage innovation, improve public safety and reduce poverty. As the benefits of Open Data impact broader populations and additional useful options are discovered, governments and institutions worldwide are eager to launch new or expand existing Open Data programs. It will take time to fully understand the complexity and broad potential of Open Data, which is derived from the “open” environment of licensing. As Open Data is still in its early stages, best practices and communities are just beginning to emerge.
About This Toolkit
As a collection of online tools and knowledge, this Open Government Data Toolkit supports the Open Data development efforts in client countries and in the growing number of other entities and organizations that are joining this technical revolution. The Toolkit provides the guidance they need to create their own Open Data strategies and platforms.
One way to understand Open Data initiatives is to view them as types of economies, where the data represent commodities; data users, or “consumers,” provide demand for the data; and government agencies and other sources provide the supply of data. This philosophy is incorporated into the Toolkit and its approach to structuring an Open Data initiative.
The Toolkit is comprised of this introduction and seven sections:
Open Data Essentials. Brief orientation, including what Open Data is, how it is used and examples of Open Data initiatives at different levels; useful for all, especially inexperienced users or those new to Open Data
Starting an Open Data Initiative. Provides some of the tools that governments need to take the first steps in an Open Data initiative; of particular interest to Open Data managers, coordinators and staff within government
Technology Options. Summarizes key technical issues in Open Data catalog development; especially helpful to IT specialists
Demand & Engagement. How to build communities of data users and promote Open Data literacy in local, national and regional stakeholders; how to advance Open Data concepts through partnerships, media and others; of particular interest to government agencies, civil society organizations, technologists and journalists
Supply & Quality of Data. How to manage datasets, locate data and ensure data quality, timeliness and accuracy; especially helpful for data producers
Readiness Assessment Tool. How to use the World Bank’s methodological tool to diagnose the actions that a government needs to take to launch an Open Data initiative; of particular interest to governments that are committed to Open Data but don’t know where to start
Technical Assistance and Funding. A list of technical assistance and funding resources from the World Bank and other organizations; most relevant to governments in developing countries