Open data reflections

I am spending a lot of time thinking and reading about open research data at the moment, in preparation for some policy development work in the New Year. I am personally positive about the open research data agenda, seeing lots of benefits to more sharing of data, both for research itself and wider. There are some strong public-good arguments for making data available, including, but not limited to, potential economic benefit.

It is common to find these positive arguments articulated. As I have argued recently in a post on the Sciencewise blog, any policy intervention around open research data needs to balance the benefits against the costs, which are not so well understood. There are also complex issues around the politics of open data that have been discussed in an excellent blog post by Rob Kitchen. The post expands on four critiques of open data arguing that it:

  • lacks a sustainable financial model;
  • promotes a politics of the benign and empowers the empowered;
  • lacks utility and usability; and
  • facilitates the neoliberalisation and marketisation of public services.

The post concludes that

we lack detailed case studies of open data projects in action, the assemblages surrounding and shaping them, and the messy, contingent and relational ways in which they unfold. It is only through such studies that a more complete picture of open data will emerge, one that reveals both the positive and negatives of such projects, and which will provide answers to more normative questions concerning how they should be implemented and to what ends.

Real food for thought there, and a welcome stimulus to reflect on the assumption that open data is inevitably positive.