Open Data Projects that Don’t Make Their Data Open

Sounds bizarre, but it seems to be the norm.

The very people who are at the forefront of consuming Open Data, funded by my tax money, almost always fail to make the fruits of their labours available as Open Data in their turn.

Let’s see: You get some public funds to build a demonstrator that shows how great Open Data is.

So you go away and harvest all sorts of data from a variety of sources (both easy and hard), and then add lots of value by linking it together and then synthesising new values and providing new insights.

Then hopefully in some time that corresponds to the proposal timescales, you launch your wizzo site, with fancy visualisations and everything. You get the loud praise and tweets from the great and good saying how this demonstrates how great Open Data is.


I come along with a little email asking if I can please have the data (so that I can use it for and other stuff I have that is set up to use the Open Data food chain).

I then get the standard response: “Ah, yes, we intend to make the data public, but <fill in a reason here />, and give us just a little time.”

Following that, I usually wait a few weeks or months, and then ask again. I might get another response along the same lines. I will probably ask another 2 or 3 times over the course of the next year or so, sometimes getting a response, but then decide that the data is probably too old now to be of interest, and I am wasting my time in any case because it ain’t going to happen. (It is unlikely that the original project actually included a real plan for keeping the application up to date by refreshing the data, or that the technology is actually able to do that.)

The point that anyone working in Open Data knows is that if you don’t build in the mechanisms and technology from the start to make data open, then grafting it on at the end is hard, expensive, unreliable, and various other bad words. So why don’t people put it in the proposal, and why don’t the funders require it to be part of the projects?

And the worst thing is that sometimes you hear the people who have done these projects (that are essentially data sinks) actually complaining that they couldn’t get data they wanted for their project from some other source!

Now ain’t that hypocritical?!

I would actually prefer it, by the way, if the response to my request for the data was more along the lines of, well we built a demonstrator, and we aren’t going to make the data open. There are actually quite a few sensible reasons for doing that.

Right, I’m off to think about which of my datasets is Open… 🙂

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One thought on “Open Data Projects that Don’t Make Their Data Open”

  1. It was one of the sadly amusing things I noticed working on EdShare, HumBox, LanguageBox, etc etc. People of the Open Educational Resources world who ran these projects would frequently complain about the difficulty of convincing users to deposit their resources with an open license. These same people would reach the end of an 18month project with none of their own resources in the repository.

    Ironically I routinely had to field questions from the project team such as “where should we put this user guide to depositing items?”, “where should we put this project report?” and “where should we put these videos and images we use as branding materials?” The answer to all of these questions was “Umm, in platform we built for sharing digital resources on the web?…”

    I dont think I would say that people don’t believe their own retoric (but I easily could). I just think that they, along with everyone else, were just having problems grabbing the concept of openness with both hands and actually living it.

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