If you want to be followed on social media, just add #bigdata or #datascience to your posts. These are the buzzwords of the century so far and with the aid of geek chic have brought computer tech to its greatest prominence since #dotcombubble. We’re all going to get rich off Big Data or so the story goes – data is the ‘new oil’ ( or information is the new oil ) and Data Scientist is the ‘sexiest job of the 21st Century‘. These ideas have been endlessly rebutted and reinforced over the last couple of years but regardless of how much might be hype, data is definitely the big thing of the moment.
Arguably the poor cousin of Big Data is Open Data. This is probably because venture capitalists hate the idea of just giving away their IP, USP and other acronyms but also possibly because outside of the nascent hacker communities, not many people get too excited about having machine readable access to bus timetables or waste management data.
And yet, Open Data has been getting a lot of loving attention from governments, especially in the aftermath of the global financial crash and the ubiquitous drive to cut costs via efficiency savings and perhaps even increase economic returns from government assets.
This government sponsored open movement is incredibly timely and important. In part because the Open Source and Open Data movements are really priming the pump of the Data Science industry (or Digital Economy) but it also offers to increase public trust in government, something that appears a lot in the UK Statistics Authority’s Code of Practice . It also promises more globally linked-up monitoring, evaluation and strategising which is surely required for tackling global social challenges like climate change, food security and our ageing populations.
The UK has been at the forefront of Open Data for a few years, only just being pipped to pole-position by Taiwan in this year’s Open Data Index. The Office for National Statistics has been leading that charge and currently has 1213 datasets and over 20 thousand reference tables available via the ONS website – and yet there is so much further to go in opening up and unleashing the full potential of Open Data for “UK Plc” and our society.
I have been in my new role as Open Data Lead at the ONS for 3 weeks so far. It’s still early days but I’ve been excited to see the developments underway – with a new website almost finished beta testing, an API that’s also in late stage beta, and a pilot project for a Linked Data portal/API just kicking off (watch this space).
A big part of my role is community engagement and advocacy and I’ll be hoping to create a dialogue both on this blog and on social media (@bobbledavidson) on how the ONS should be pushing forward with Open Data. What data needs to be released? What format is best? I want to hear from you.
If data is the new oil, Open Data is the oil that fuels society and we need all hands at the pump.