By Mark Frank, PhD student in Politics & International Relations and WebSciences
Over the last couple of months I have been lucky enough to be involved with creating the first Open Data Barometer. This is a project run by Tim Berners-Lee’s Worldwide Web Foundation to measure the progress that countries round the world have made in opening up data for reuse – and the results have just been announced. Although the Barometer includes progress on both government and non-government data, government policy is at the heart of both sectors and the results are a reflection of government attitudes to and progress towards open data. Unlike other “barometers”, such as the Eurobarometer, which are based on surveys and interviews, the process for creating the open data barometer comprises using the internet to find the answers to a structured set of questions about each country. Questions range from considerations of general context (e.g. is there effective freedom of information legislation?) through impact (are there clear examples of open data improving government efficiency?) to specific types of data such as health, environment and transport. Every answer has to be supported with publicly available evidence. You can see the text of the questions and the kind of evidence required here. The answers are then peer reviewed and normalised.
I conducted the research for the UK and the USA, which given my limited language skills was probably all I could manage. As it turns out the UK came top of the barometer and the USA was second. This probably made the job easier than for some other countries as it is easier to prove a positive – e.g. yes, there is open data on transport – than a negative. And the UK and the USA had a lot of positive answers. I don’t think this means I was a soft reviewer. I am pretty sure most members of the open data community would have guessed these two countries would come top before the project began. It was quite a lot of work but could be done almost entirely at my desk using a browser.
I also found it to be an excellent way to improve my knowledge and understanding of the two countries. For example, I never realised that the USA had no general information privacy legislation equivalent to our Data Protection Act (it relies on a complex set of federal and state laws relating to specific sectors such as health). If the opportunity to do something like this comes up again I would jump at it.
As befits an open data project all of the data is available on the web and anyone is licensed to reuse it. So if it is relevant to your research then please help yourself. I think it is good information. The vast majority of questions were relevant and clear (inevitably there were a few that were less clear and or overlapped – but compared to similar exercises I have done before it was good) and the feedback from the peer reviewers was both detailed and helpful. Remember that many of the questions are about transparency in general – so it might be relevant even if you are not specifically interested in open data.