The ABC’s of (Better) Open Data

16 November 2017

ABC open data

Blog written by Stephanie Pryor, GIS Intern, Interpret Spatial Solutions

In my first week as an intern at Interpret, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to attend an event about open data. Attending this event were speakers from Koordinates, Figure.NZ, LINZ and Creative Commons. My brain was already borderline overflowing with the information from my first few days on the job, but this event provided many interesting points that deserved further thought.

Hamish Campbell from Koordinates and Rob Eland from LINZ spoke with great synergies between their presentations. The main points that stood out to me were:

  • You don’t know what users want, so don’t make assumptions. Just because you use data a specific way, doesn’t mean that others won’t use it differently. The data needs to be as accessible as possible for everybody.
  • Usability brings people in the first instance, while reliability and familiarity is what keeps people coming back.

Nat Pudley from Figure.NZ discussed the method they used to clean and release data to the New Zealand public. Figure.NZ is a not-for-profit hub of data and statistics who simplify and publish publicly-available data to enable New Zealanders to make decisions. The points of interest for me were:

  • There is a major difference between open data and usable data. There usually needs to be a lot of cleansing and organising of the data before it is in a usable form.  
  • We need to build resources that people with little experience in complex data structures can understand and navigate, and along the way developments will naturally occur to provide for the people with more experience as well.
  • Don’t be a gatekeeper, let the users decide what they want/need.

Ryan Merkley, CEO of Creative Commons, provided some insights into the legal side of sharing data, a topic I have never given much thought. We were lucky he managed to fit this event into his busy NZ schedule before flying back to Canada! My main takeaways were:

  • The backend of data needs to enable data sharing. Data should have specific enough fields that allow organisations to keep necessary details private, yet still release other relevant information. Avoid having a single field which stores everything.
  • As a data supplier, look at what you want people to be able to do with the data, rather than what you don’t want people to be able to do, and find a license that matches that.
  • As a data user, make sure you understand what the licenses allow you to do.
  • Data and licenses should be able to integrate with each other, so they can be combined and used to tell new stories.

All the speakers had a very similar perspective on Open Data. It was great to see that various organisations are all approaching such a big topic with such passion. I am excited about all the challenges ahead (some still unknown at this point) that can be solved by combining information from a vast range of organisations.  The saying “knowledge is power” springs to mind, and having access to more information empowers people to make better, smarter decisions.

A big thanks to Koordinates for organising this event, I personally learnt a lot and enjoyed the opportunity to network with other GIS professionals.