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Open Data 101: What is Open Data?

Our most recent blog post discussed which governments do Open Data well, as well as the ways in which governments can promote open data as a key policy initiative. For this post we’re going back to basics, and covering off some open data fundamentals: the definition of open data, why it’s important, and where to go if you’d like to learn more. If you’re someone who doesn’t yet know much about ‘open data’, this blog post is for you.

Image via Unsplash

What is Open Data?

Open data is data (or information) that is provided publicly to be freely accessed, used, shared and modified by anyone, for any use. Open data can come from any number of sources, including governments, non-profit organisations, multinational organisations, private sector entities, and scientific establishments. Open data can take many forms, from Excel spreadsheets and raw statistics to coordinates, maps and drawings, genomes, formulae, weather information and more.

Open data should be...
Technically open: This means the data is available and accessible to the community.
Legally open: This refers to having the appropriate licensing frameworks in place to facilitate the release of the data, as well as use and reuse of the data by the community.

Open data is used by all kinds of people, groups and organisations in an almost limitless number of ways, such as:

  • Research for academic applications and public policy
  • Technological applications including apps (like public transport planning apps and weather apps), alert systems (such as flood and earthquake alerts)
  • Tertiary education purposes

Why is Open Data important?

The release and ongoing maintenance of open data is an important practice, providing many high-level benefits to our society, including:

  • The enhancement of data sharing capabilities between nations, organisations and individuals
  • The improvement of global knowledge and understanding of issues facing the human race, as well as the world around us, thus supporting evidence-based policy making and policy research
  • The promotion of innovation in both the public and private sectors, which in turn leads to improved public services and an increased standard of living
  • The improvement of government transparency
  • Contributes to the digital economy
     

Still sounding like an abstract concept? Here are some real world examples of open data from very different content areas, to illustrate the sheer breadth of open data being published in the world today, as well as some of the ways in which you might be using open data without even realising it.

Examples of Open Data

OpenWeatherMap
OpenWeatherMap provides a data feed and map for real-time and historical weather data as well as forecasting for the world over. Your favourite weather app might just be using open data from OpenWeatherMap to give you the latest weather information.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
The OECD publishes a huge amount of open data in various formats including charts, maps, tables and more. This includes statistics for OECD countries on a range of topics, from agriculture to finance, health to innovation. You may have read articles that cite OECD statistics - this is a great example of how open data is used to enrich our shared understanding of the word around us.

Quick, Draw! Open Data
The team at ‘Quick, Draw!’ (a popular drawing-based phone game) have released 50 million drawings - created by 15 million real people who have played the game - as open data, so they can be viewed and used by researchers, artists, and anyone who is curious. This example shows that open data isn’t all about numbers, and can come from some very varied places.

Transport for NSW Open Data
Here at TfNSW we are committed to providing transport-related data to the community, which flows through to the travel apps you use for your morning commute. Some of the data we have released as open data includes:

  • Downloadable datasets, like our Opal Trips datasets, which provide monthly Opal trip counts for all modes of public transport in a CSV format which is compatible with Microsoft Excel.
  • APIs (API means Application Protocol Interface - a 101 lesson for another day) which allows app developers to include real-time data in their applications and websites.
  • Maps, like our Opal Coverage map and Train network maps.

Learn more about Open Data

A great starting point for deepening your knowledge about Open Data is the Open Data Handbook. This free resource, published by the Open Knowledge Foundation, contains everything from case studies and how-to guides to presentations and videos produced by the open data community worldwide.

If you love a bit of e-learning, then the European Data Portal’s Open Data e-learning programme is a good option. It contains 16 lessons, starting from the basics of Open Data and moving right through to more complex areas such as Open Data advocacy and achieving impact through the use of Open Data.

Finally, the Open Data Institute is an independent non-profit organisation that works with companies and governments to build an open and trustworthy data ecosystem. On their website you can find Open Data-related news, guides, reports, case studies and more.

For more information on the importance of Open Data at Transport for NSW, you can read the GIPA Act for Australia, as well as our Transport Open Data Policy.

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter for updates on all things NSW Transport Open Data!