Why Ireland needs a Minister for Data

I wish more Irish data came with this sticker.

I wish more Irish data came with this sticker. Photo by “jwyg” on Flickr.

In this article, I am going to say something important about open data. But first, I need to explain what open data is. If you are familiar with the concept, skip to the next section.

Open data is a principle that dictates that data held internally in organizations should be made available to outsiders. This applies mainly to governments. Governments possess large amounts of data: data about the geographies of their countries, anonymized statistics about their populations, about the economy, data about transport infrastructure, about traffic, about weather. There is a growing understanding in developed countries everywhere that governments should make these data sets available, in machine-readable formats, for free reuse by anyone anywhere, without copyright or royalties. The idea is that society will benefit in two ways. Way number one, opening up government data will encourage transparency in government: good governments have nothing to hide. Way number two, all that data will provide fodder for innovation and entrepreneurship, people will be able to build applications on top of the data, start businesses and create jobs, or if not, at least build useful apps that make people’s lives easier.

That is the theory and politicians everywhere are falling over themselves proclaiming how much they believe in it. But not everywhere are words being converted into actions. Sadly, the country where I live, Republic of Ireland, is not a leader in this field. Very little government data is available for unrestricted reuse or in formats that lend themselves to easy reuse. I will demonstrate this with a concrete example from personal experience. Continue reading