By Keisha C Taylor
As Internet and mobile access grows, more data is made open online. It is being used and analyzed by the media, the private sector, governments, and civil society organizations to inform their decisions. Open data, real time data, and linked data are being discussed in many forums. And so are the ways in which governments, civil society organizations, and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) can work with the private sector to benefit the public using the data analysis. Data-related events are highlighting the value of data and are addressing technical, design, political, reliability, validity, and inclusion issues that arise with its disclosure.
Hal Varian, Google’s Chief Economist, says “The ability to take data — to be able to understand it, to process it, to extract value from it, to visualize it, to communicate it — that’s going to be a hugely important skill in the next decades, not only at the professional level but even at the educational level for elementary school kids, for high school kids, for college kids. Because now we really do have essentially free and ubiquitous data. So the complimentary scarce factor is the ability to understand that data and extract value from it.” This post highlights some of the organizations that are involved in this type of work and points to some of the forums discussing this topic.
The European Public Sector Information Platform has a great list of open data events. And for those of you interested in open government data events, have a look at the events calendar that is being updated by the Open Knowledge Foundation. A London-based nonprofit, Open Knowledge Foundation is at the forefront of promoting open knowledge to help citizens and society.
A few of the many notable events are:
- The Open Knowledge Conference (OKCon) — Last year’s conference, which was held in London, was a big success. This year’sconference, to be held in Berlin in July, promises to be both interesting and useful for those who want to learn more about open data issues. It will bring together academics, policy makers, and lawyers with geeks, artists, and civil society activists.
- Open Data in Aid Transparency — The organizers for this workshop, which will be held in Berlin on September 28 and 29, 2011, are OpenAid, Open Knowledge Foundation Germany, the Open Data Network, and the Böll Foundation. Presentations on the use of open data in development cooperation (AidData) and discussions on transparency and publication of open data by NGOs are planned. NGO representatives, parliamentarians, journalists, and experts interested in aid effectiveness will attend.
- World Bank: Democratizing Development through Open Data — Though this webinar took place last month, you can still look at the presentations here. Innovative visualization, such as the Mapping for Results Initiative, was highlighted as a powerful tool for civil society organizations and citizens.
These kinds of events, however, still tend to be dominated by the technology geek, statistician, and government official though civil society organizations and other organizations involved in cultural fields are also exploring the potential of using open data. For civil society organizations on the sidelines of this data movement, the everyday media’s use of data for reporting provides a practical demonstration of just how useful it can be. (I would recommend having a look at some really cool videos featured by Stanford on Journalism in the Age of Data.) Many eyes not only provides visualizations but a forum for anyone to upload data and create visualizations and Flowing Data illustrates how designers, programmers, and statisticians are making good use of data . A few practical examples of the use of data for reporting are listed below.
- The Guardian is one of the news agencies at the forefront of using data for reporting. It has a section of their website dedicated to using data for reporting and has made available information on open government data. One handy example is the mapping and visualization of the Iraq War Logs and most recently AV referendum results in the UK.
- CNN used Twitter data to report on the 2010 World Cup Fever in South Africa.
- The New York Times used data mapping and visualizations to examine Netflix Queues.
- The Chicago Tribune has a data center where it tracks, visualizes and analyzes reports such as homicides in Chicago and city council spending.
- The BBC is also utilizing data visualizations for reporting, for instance to report on the Eurozone in crisis. Britain from Above provides some useful maps and visualizations, including one on Britain’s information economy.
These are just a few of what are arguably limitless examples how data is being used to help us understand our world. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) in London recently hosted the workshop “Civil Society 2.0: how open data will change your organisation and what you can do about it,” and the presentations have been made available online. If indeed “Data is the New Oil,” civil society organizations (CSOs) should be learning how to generate, find, and use data to help inform and improve their work. The appropriate use of data can help all CSOs to advance the overall well-being of individuals and their local communities.