Open data – data that is freely available over the web for anyone to access, share and reuse without restriction - provides many opportunities for innovation – and there are also plenty of opportunities for information professionals to get involved, according to Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt in his keynote at last week’s CILIP Conference in Brighton.
Nigel Shadbolt is Professor of Computer Science at the University of Oxford, and Principal of Jesus College. He is also the Chairman and Co-Founder of the Open Data Institute (ODI). In 2009 the Prime Minister appointed Nigel and Sir Tim Berners-Lee as Information Advisors with the remit to transform access to public sector information. This work led to the creation of the www.data.gov.uk which now provides access to over 30,000 datasets from central government departments, public sector bodies and local authorities in the UK.
Shadbolt described the power of open innovation to drive innovation and entrpreneurship – for example, the Human Genome Project, built on open data principles, has generated $965 billion of economic benefit. In the Netherlands, Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum has made over 150,000 high resolution images of its collection freely available for anyone to view, download and use for any purpose, and this high quality material has been put to use by a rich range of business and services. In the UK, transport provider TfL has made all its data available, creating a thriving transport app ecosystem in London and saving Londoners both time and money.
There are however still challenges to be addressed, noted Shadbolt. The movement, by definition, generates a very great deal of data – so who pays to maintain it? And what about curation to ensure that it is kept safe for the future?
Perhaps most relevant for information professionals are issues around data literacy, which, according to Shadbolt, is "a new essential skill." In an age when everyone depends on data, information and knowledge, do people have the skills to interpret data correctly?
Shadbolt sees this as a challenge and an opportunity for the information profession. Highlighting the importance of indexing, organisation, context, sampling and anonymisation, he told his audience that "your knowledge and insights, methods and techniques are more important, more central and more required than ever… You are essential to making data capture, publication, analysis and interpretation 'business as normal'".