What is open data?

What is open data?
December 22, 2014 Theresa McGinley

You may have heard the term ‘open data,’ but do you know what it means and why you should care about it?

The open data movement champions the idea that, for example, publicly funded researchers and organisations should make their data publicly available for access and reuse, without restriction.

This movement has grown significantly over recent years and is closely related to other ‘open’ movements such as open access, which advocates unrestricted access to peer-reviewed research publications.

Some of the most significant advances towards an open data culture can be seen in government. This is due to governments coming under increasing pressure to demonstrate how public funds are being used – to be transparent and accountable to taxpayers.

Locally, Premier Jay Weatherill has signed the Declaration of Open Data (PDF 344KB), to position the Government of South Australia’s data as open by default. An Action Plan to Advance Open Data (PDF 566KB) has also been launched. Some Government datasets are beginning to be published via the online repository at data.sa.gov.au.

Nationally, data.gov.au provides easy access to the Australian Government’s public datasets, as well as a platform for members of the public to request government data that they would like to be made publicly available.

Universities and research organisations are also starting to recognise the benefits of open data.

Universities Australia’s Agenda for Australian higher education 2013-2016 (PDF 1.88MB) states, “Universities must make the most of the opportunities presented by the digital revolution to enhance and expand open access to research to foster innovation.”

At eRSA we believe it is only a matter of time before data sharing (where appropriate) will be a requirement of public research funding. At the beginning of 2013, the Australian Research Council launched its Open Access Policy, which states that “any publications arising from an ARC supported research project must be deposited into an open access institutional repository.” This is a clear step towards a culture of ‘openness’ in research.

What makes data open?

The definition of open data, according to OpenDefinition.org is:

Open means anyone can freely access, use, modify, and share for any purpose (subject, at most, to requirements that preserve provenance and openness).”

Therefore, to meet this definition, a dataset must be:

  • easily accessible and modifiable
  • available as a whole, not partially, in machine-readable format
  • available to everyone, no matter their location, field of work etc
  • available for commercial and non-commercial use
  •  allowed to be intermixed with other datasets and have derivative works created from it.

Should all data be open?

No, certain data cannot and should not be made open, for example, clinical or hospital patient data. Researchers and other data custodians need to carefully consider whether their data is appropriate to be shared.

The Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research states, “Research data should be made available for use by other researchers unless this is prevented by ethical, privacy or confidentiality matters.”

A wide range of access and security approaches are required for research data. Some data can never be shared, some must be de-identified, and some will require mediated access to approved users.

How we can help

eResearch SA can assist researchers in determining the best way to manage access to their research data and supports a number of platforms to enable discovery and reuse.

  • On using an eResearch program to complete 3D modelling of architectural records: “We were able to build an interactive, photo image model of the [historical South Australian property Joseph Elliot’s cottage] home – transforming simple sketches and floor plans into an interactive 3D experience... what we have now is a computerised model that allows us to experience the Elliott house beyond just words on paper”.
    Associate Professor Christine Garnaut
  • "eResearch capabilities ... ensure we can continue to use the latest methods available in our field. The hope is that through the use of these technologies, we will be able to achieve some research outcomes that may otherwise not have been possible.”  
    Professor Ina Bornkessel-SchlesewskyCognitive Neuroscience, UniSA
  • “The supercomputing facilities at eResearch SA permit analysis of a host of interesting problems in evolutionary biology. It is the only computer system in SA that can perform certain complex calculations required to infer large evolutionary trees and associated patterns of evolution.”  
    Associate Professor Michael LeeSouth Australian Museum
  • “Open source intelligence is about extracting information from blogs, news sites and social media platforms, any information that can be freely accessed online. There’s way too much information out there for an individual or group of people to comprehend, so we have created automated tools to allow our users to extract the data they need...access to the latest technology allow[s] us to continue to provide the best platforms to our end-users.”
    David BlockowData to Decisions CRC
  • “Having access to greater computer power helps us put in place a more realistic model in terms of the number of atoms you can have in the system and that improves the predictive power of the calculations.”
    Professor Andrea GersonMinerals and Materials Science & Technology
  • “It would be impossible to do the type of research that we’re doing without them – it is a major factor in achieving our research outcomes.”  
    Associate Professor Con DoolanSchool of Mechanical Engineering, University of Adelaide

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