This past weekend, I joined a diverse group of coders, policy makers, and thought leaders at the Sunlight Foundation’s 5th annual Transparency Camp. The two-day unconference focused primarily on discovering and discussing ways to leverage open data for better social, policy, and advocacy outcomes. The event highlighted a number of exciting opportunities that could have the power to improve our ability to use data for advocacy purposes.
One challenge that came up throughout the sessions was identifying ways to educate communities on the utility of open data, and finding ways to answer these questions:
- How do we define open data?
- Why should we care about open data?
So, what is open data? Joel Gurin, author of Open Data Now, defines it as “data with a mission.” Beyond that, open data can generally be defined as information that is publicly available for any individual or business to access. While open data can also be big data (e.g. large data sets to be reviewed for patterns and connections), its greatest quality stems from its accessibility.
Digging into why we should care about open data reveals a lot of opportunities. Reviewing, processing, and discussing open data can help do anything from demonstrating an unmet need in a community, to revealing the success of a campaign. The primary advantage of open data from an advocacy perspective is the ability to use publicly available facts to tell important stories.
Examples highlighted at Transparency Camp varied from the development of a clearer picture of the world, to finding ways we can use the immensely detailed global development data sets from the World Bank. Using, and offering, open data can have a transformative effect on a campaign, but as Ellen Miller, Executive Director of the Sunlight Foundation, noted in her keynote address, the change we can see from opening data and doing this work will require a cultural shift.
While there is still a lot of discussion to be had on the topic, thinking about what open data can do for you is a worthwhile endeavor. As we see more and more organizations and governmental entities move towards opening up their data, we should all work together to find new and creative ways to incorporate and leverage these data sets to improve our advocacy efforts.