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Monday, December 10, 2007

Principles for open government data

Ethan Zuckerman has blogged some notes on the O'Reilly workshop on Open Government Principles (Sebastapol, California, December 7-8, 2007).  (Thanks to Glyn Moody.)  Excerpt:

The goal of this weekend’s Open Government Principles workshop at O’Reilly and Associates was to draft a set of principles to define what constitutes open government data. The people drafting these principles were, for the most part, activists who believe that widespread sharing and creative presentation of government data can create a better-informed citizenry. In other words, they’re data junkies - the perfect folks to create a demanding list of what geeks, journalists and the citizens they serve need to access government data as easily as possible....

My colleagues offered a tight definition of what constitutes open government data:

Government data shall be considered open if it is made public in a way that complies with the principles below:

1. Complete
All public data is made available. Public data is data that is not subject to valid privacy, security or privilege limitations.

2. Primary
Data is as collected at the source, with the highest possible level of granularity, not in aggregate or modified forms.

3. Timely
Data is made available as quickly as necessary to preserve the value of the data.

4. Accessible
Data is available to the widest range of users for the widest range of purposes.

5. Machine processable
Data is reasonably structured to allow automated processing.

6. Non-discriminatory
Data is available to anyone, with no requirement of registration.

7. Non-proprietary
Data is available in a format over which no entity has exclusive control.

8. License-free
Data is not subject to any copyright, patent, trademark or trade secret regulation. Reasonable privacy, security and privilege restrictions may be allowed.

All those qualifications were the subject of substantial discussion, some of which is ongoing on a wiki, which you’re welcome to contribute towards. It was a much faster process to draft a introduction - a mini-manifesto of sorts - which reads in part:

The Internet is the public space of the modern world, and through it governments now have the opportunity to better understand the needs of their citizens and citizens may participate more fully in their government. Information becomes more valuable as it is shared, less valuable as it is hoarded. Open data promotes increased civil discourse, improved public welfare, and a more efficient use of public resources....

One [of my questions] concerns how broad the definition should be of “government data”. If it includes all data paid for by public funds, then a call for open data has substantial overlap with the Open Access Movement, which seeks to unlock scholarly materials published in licensed journals and make those materials available under less arduous licenses, trying to share scholarly research with people in developing nations. (Much of the scholarship Open Access seeks to unlock is produced with government funding - OA advocates argue that research paid for by public funds needs to be broadly available to the public.) While it would be exciting to see solidarity between these movements, that definition is probably broader than what most of the people in the room were considering when they thought about government data.

A second concern regards non-digital data....

PS:  (1) I appreciate that Ethan links to my Guide to the OA Movement.  However, I've phased this out and haven't updated it since 2004.  For newcomers to OA, I recommend my Open Access Overview instead.  (2) The link to the workshop is dead at the moment, but I'd assume that the problem is temporary and keep trying.

Update.  The link the workshop is working again. 

Update.  Also see the blog notes of Joseph Hall, another participant at the meeting.