The State of Open Data — Join the Investigation!

The authors working on the State of Open Data report have a big challenge. They have just 2,500 or so words to capture the most important issues on a particular open data theme from the last ten years, and to identify at the key issues for the future — all while drawing on diverse examples from around the world. So to make sure chapters get off to the best start, we need your help.

Each of the authors for The State of Open Data has been working on an ‘Environment Scan’ by completing a standardized template and examining the context of open data for a particular issue or theme. These scans represent a first step in our process and are designed to help the authors by identifying stakeholders, initiatives, and examples of how open data has been applied — as well as by mapping out key prior research. Over the next month, we’ll be opening up these environment scans in batches for your comments and input. We are looking for your help to:

  • Highlight key areas of progress or key gaps that the chapter should address;
  • Suggest relevant stakeholders, events, or funding sources related to the chapter theme — particularly outside of the ‘usual suspects’;
  • Identify specific examples or use-cases that the chapters could draw upon; and/or
  • Point to any prior research that can provide further resources for the chapter.

These scans are not only a key part of the research process, but we hope they can also form the basis of useful community resources for the future as the product of global brainstorming on open data in a range of thematic, cross-cutting and regional domains.

Open Detective Work

If you have ever watched a crime drama, you can think of our environmental scans as the flip chart or bulletin board that the detectives use to gather their notes while running an investigation. An investigator needs to understand the history of a case to assess the current situation: so we’re looking at progress to date as well as persistent gaps, issues, or problems. Investigations have to understand the ‘suspects’ and their motives, so we’re mapping out stakeholders, events, communities, and funding. And an investigation needs to be based on evidence, so we’re looking to identify existing research to inform the case.

Our bulletin boards take the form of Google Docs open for your suggestions and comments. Just as you might write on the flip-chart in a workshop, we invite you to take the virtual pen, and contribute to the author’s initial draft. And just like the detective’s bulletin board, it could get a bit messy at first, but we’re hoping through this process, we’ll also be able to find some new patterns and connections.

A bulletin board from the series “Homeland”

But before we dive into the process, we thought it would be best to clarify expectations about this consultation and how it will work.

We want the Environment Scans:

  • To identify a representative set of important issues, stakeholders, events, and research for the chapter;
  • We’re not aiming to be exhaustive, but rather to avoid major blind-spots or biases. We’re particularly keen to make sure a wide range of regional and gender perspectives are represented — so if you spot gaps, please make additions, comments, or suggestions;
  • To be formatted as bullet point summaries, not essays;
  • We’re looking for concise additions or suggestions to the bulleted lists, or comments in the margins;
  • To provide links and citations that chapter authors can follow up on;
  • Please include links to more information whenever you can.

Please note that we are not trying to create a comprehensive directory. While we want the names of specific projects, we are not trying to create a list of all known users or uses. If your project is not currently on the list it doesn’t mean it’s not good or impactful, but that contributors have judged that including it does not add a substantial new dimension to the scan (e.g. there are other similar projects; or others that raise the same issues).

Please remember — These scans were written by fellow humans, and like every human, they may have made mistakes, or missed something you think is obvious. Please be respectful while commenting.

How will the State of Open Data use this information?

The authors will look at the comments, but they are not obliged to incorporate them into their chapters. The Editorial Board will use the scans as a tool for their review of the chapter.

How would it this process work? How can I contribute?

We will upload the Environmental Scans to our Google drive in a Google doc format:

  • The scans will be open for comments from anyone, will be uploaded in batches, and these uploads will be published on social media. Please help us spread the word about the scans and tag people you know who might be able to help us.
  • The completed scans will be made available under a CC-BY 4.0 license, and we hope that they would be useful for other open data research or activities.

You can find our first batch of Environment Scans available for comment on our new website!

Have more questions? Comment here, email us at or tweet to us!

Like what you read? Give State of Open Data a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.