Openwishing data

Open washing data means you claim your data is open when it isn’t. But is claiming your data will create ‘good’ just as bad?

I was at the IODC conference this week talking about the Media Mill project I’ve been working on. It was an interesting couple of days and I’ll write more later on. But I was struck by the scale of thinking — it’s big ideas to solve big problems.

On more than one occasion, on and off the stage, I heard a lot of talk about OpenWashing — putting data out and claiming it was open when it isn’t, just to look good. It was an interesting term, but I was also struck by the way that many of the big claims for open data being made where just as big on promises when the reality was something different.

Assuming your data will make the world a better place might be as dangerous as simply claiming its open.

Whilst openwashing speaks to broader concerns of transparency and limitations of exploitation both commercial and civic, the idea of openwishing speaks to big claims of social and individual impact. ‘This project will make things better for individual citizens’ they will claim — that’s what open data can do when we really use it. In reality it doesn’t or, more likely its really hard to prove. We fall back on the economic and civic parts of the open data project and simply assume the social value part has happened.

Clearly OpenWashing is an issue. Big and small, if you’re looking at issues of corruption and accountability its a problem. It’s a big issue of if you want to generate economic innovation and find your held back by licensing.

Over-promising on the value of open data to citizens — open wishing for rainbows and unicorns — is a more fundamental problem than openwashing and one that not only threatens the trust citizens might have in the process. As Karin Christiansen noted in one of the first presentations; we need to be careful not to over promise on open data as it gives others a reason to undermine the whole idea.

Over promising on open data leaves it open to criticism that it can’t deliver.