What we mean by open data when we’re talking about listings

We’re working with Nesta on a discovery project asking: can open data help to make listings more efficient whilst reaching new audiences?

We thought it might be helpful to explain what we mean by some of these terms.

Open data

Make things open, it makes them better

Open data is data that anyone can access, use or share. When we say data we mean the same thing as information or content.

Open data is not a particular type of data. It could be big or small. It could be numbers, images, audio or words.

Open data is about the restrictions you place on your data, whatever it is. Or rather about the restrictions you take off.

Our good friends at the Open Data Institute have a nice way of explaining this.

The Data Spectrum.

A diagram that shows how some data is closed (restricted to internal access), some is shared and some is available to anyone.

There are some types of data that are closed within organisations: employment contract details for example or sales reports.

There’s a huge amount of data that is shared, sometimes it is shared between a small number of people or organisations based on non-disclosure agreements or contracts.

Even some types of data that are very public are not open in our definition. Because, for example, even though you can see a Twitter feed, the licence terms that Twitter uses means you can’t do anything you like with the data.

So open data is data where the owner of the organisation has given explicit permission that anyone can use it, re-use it, and re-mix it. The only condition that you can apply within the open data definition is that you can require people who use your data to acknowledge the source. (The ODI describes the Data Spectrum very well of course).

Licence to open

Typically organisations who want to turn their data into open data do a couple of things:

  • they save it in a file format that will be useful to the people who might use their data
  • they put it on a public website somewhere that people will be able to find it
  • they add a licence that shows that anyone is allowed to use and re-use the data for any purpose (Creative Commons Attribution would be a good example)

Why should you care?

Bus and map on a phone

A couple of weeks ago I left a meeting in Stockton-on-Tees and needed to get to Guisborough. I don’t know North East England that well so I got my phone out and asked Google Maps to get me there. I was planning to phone a cab. That seemed the easiest thing to do. But I thought I would just look at the public transport options.

Google Maps told me to catch the X66 to Middlesbrough and then change onto the 5A. It told me which bus stops to use and when the buses would leave and arrive. It was a very smooth journey and exactly the sort of thing we are used to doing in 2019.

In order to get me there Google was relying on some open data. Bus timetables and the location of bus stops are available for anyone to access, use or share. Google took that data, mashed it up with its own mapping data and provided me with a really good service. Which by the way generated an extra customer for Arriva Buses (who are the original source of the data). Sorry Stockton Taxis.

Let people use your data to help customers

This is what we think is the opportunity for culture events listings. We think that if every venue and organisation with cultural events listings saved them in a useful file format, put them on a website and added a licence that allowed anyone else to use and re-use the information that that would help them and would help audiences.

It’s not audiences that are looking for open data versions of listings. Instead we think journalists, listings specialists and developers would build new services involving listings. If only they could access, use and re-use it for free.

Which brings us to another term:


We see this project as a design challenge.

The Discovery Alpha Beta Live design methodology

Ultimately we hope to help the cultural sector design a way to get listings information out in a way that developers and journalists understand and can make use of and that will ultimately benefit audiences.

But we are conscious that we have an imperfect understanding of the issue.

Discovery is the part of a design process where we seek to get a much fuller understanding of the problem. We really need to understand what the world looks like to all of the different people and organisations involved in the work of putting on events, listing them, promoting them and getting people to come and participate in or watch them.

Discovery is about widening our understanding so that, if (and hopefully when) we start to propose ideas around open data: they will be based in a real understanding of the needs of the sector.

Please help

If you work in arts and culture and are involved with listings: we’re organising some stakeholder sessions in Cardiff and it would be great if you were able to come along to give us the benefit of your experience.

Book for 14th March

Book for 28th March

Thanks for reading

I’m Ben Proctor from The Satori Lab. We support public servants so they can develop the right tools, skills and culture to deliver excellent services in the digital age.

If that sounds like your sort of thing, we’d love to hear from you.