Open This Data!

This project aims to help lift legal and technical restrictions on data, and get rapid community response to changes in terms of use. The Open Data Button, installed as a browser bookmarklet, is an easy, social way to share the fact that you are prevented from accessing data. Users of the button should then get legal or technical help from the online community, including help with next steps, such as Is It Open Data?, Freedom of Information requests, or another campaign.

Update: a new project along these lines is being launched on March 2, 2016. For details, visit: https://opendatabutton.org/

Challenge

This project started at LegalHack@OKCon 2013.

The ongoing challenge in the Open Data community is to understand where restrictions on data exist, and to create grounds for public appeal to data owners for changes to terms of use. While the discussion is taken to a high political level on certain widely acknowledged datasets, there are many relevant and useful sources of information, which may even be published online and accessible, yet are still not open due to their legal definition - or lack thereof!

An option for most people is to go through a Freedom of Information request process, but they may not be willing to go “all the way”. Something like an Open This Data! button, even just a simple hashtag, could quickly start a wider community appeal. It would be interesting to both data activists and researchers to know where there is data that is going unused due to licensing.

As Opendata.ch president André Golliez recently said in an interview “the legal situation (of open data) is one of the largest medium-term problems. There are many constraints, such as on how data can be published. Everybody is anchored in law. Only data on which no restrictions are attached, should be open.”

Goals

Let's give people a quick and easy way to express their wish that the data be free! Let's do it in consultation with legal bright minds at OKFN. Here are some possible hackday goals:

  1. Start crowdsourcing a database of not-so-open data
  2. Develop an easy way of sharing dataset restrictions, like a browser bookmarklet button
  3. Seed the database and create an early visualization, a preview of the “not-so-open-data map”

Hackday results

As described above the button should allow users to draw attention to datasets which are not accessible to them. A brief discussion about the potential use of the button uncovered a number of nuances concerning the accessibility of datasets.

We realised that it would be useful to not just capture a simple instance of when data is unavailable, but also to find out in context someone is failing to access the dataset (be it an academic, commercial or government context for example); and what type of barriers are in there way, with legal and technical barriers being the main two hindrances we identified.

To make the information we're collecting a little more interesting further still, we also collect some location data so that we might map where these problems are cropping up.

The following screenshot shows our Open This Data! popup, asking the user for a few details. We designed this popup to be as quick and simple to fill in as possible whilst still collecting useful information.

opendata2.jpg

The end result is a listing of the requests with the ability to spread the word on social media.

opendata1.jpg

Reviews

Data

  • We thought about scraping data portals as a way of aggregating openness metrics, however this is primarily a crowdsourcing initiative which creates its own data.

Team

  • Oleg Lavrovsky, Opendata.ch
  • Will Fyson, University of Southampton