What does good open data look like?

Explaining the Open Data Charter principles

Robert Palmer

Governments and organisations are collecting increasing amounts of data on everything from the weather, to shopping habits, to the how public money is spent. This represents a huge opportunity for improving the provision of public services and spurring inclusive economic growth.

In tandem with this explosion of the creation of data, there has been a growing movement to publish government information in a way that everyone can access, use and share. The Open Data Charter was born out of a desire to develop a shared set of principles for how to do this well.

The six Charter principles were developed in 2015 by governments, civil society and experts around the world. They represent a globally-agreed set of aspirational norms for how to publish data. Since then they have been adopted and endorsed by over 90 governments and organisations.

During this year we’ll be updating these principles to reflect lessons we’ve learnt since they were first published. This will be an open process, with lots of opportunity to provide feedback. We’ll be publishing the details of the process in the coming months.

1. Open By Default

This represents a real shift in how government operates and how it interacts with citizens. At the moment we often have to ask officials for the specific information we want. Open by default turns this on its head and says that there should be a presumption of publication for all. Governments need to justify data that’s kept closed, for example for security or data protections reasons. To make this work citizens must also feel confident that open data will not compromise their right to privacy.

2. Timely and Comprehensive.

Open data is only valuable if it’s still relevant. Getting information published quickly and in a comprehensive way is central to its potential for success. As much as possible governments should provide data in its original, unmodified form.

3. Accessible and Usable.

Ensuring that data is machine readable and easy to find will make data go further. Portals are one way of achieving this. But it’s also important to think about the user experience of those accessing data, including the file formats that information is provided. Data should be free of charge, under an open license, for example those developed by Creative Commons.

4. Comparable and Interoperable.

Data has a multiplier effect. The more quality datasets you have access to, and the easier it is for them to talk to each other, the more potential value you can get from them. Commonly-agreed data standards play a crucial role in making this happen.

5. For Improved Governance & Citizen Engagement

Open data has the capacity to let citizens (and others in government) have a better idea of what officials and politicians are doing. This transparency can improve public services and help hold governments to account.

6. For Inclusive Development and Innovation.

Finally, open data can help spur inclusive economic development. For example greater access to data can make farming more efficient, or it can be used to tackle climate change. Finally, we often think of open data as just about improving government performance, but there’s a whole universe out there of entrepreneurs making money off the back of open data.


You can read the full text of the principles here. Thanks to Joel Gurin’s HuffPo piece, which provided inspiration for this blog.