Open Data: The what, why and how to get started

Have you tried looking for data about the events industry in other countries? Recently I started to investigate new markets, new countries and new possibilities for our business. My first question was “how are others doing this?” When I searched for it, Google only showed a few isolated results which are mostly reports of taxes or event announcement. So I thought “All this research could be easier if we had a trustworthy data source”. Unfortunately, that data source doesn´t exist, so the only data I can play with is our own databases.

Having a good data source about events helps companies like Eventbrite to improve their customer service. However, there aren’t data sources related to events. Why isn’t out there an open data set for the event industry? Customer-facing companies would benefit from sharing data between them, using the concept of Open Data.

Read on to discover what is Open Data, why is it important and how you can get started.

What is Open Data?

The idea of Open Data has been around since the late 90s but is only recently becoming fully implemented. According to the California Open Data Handbook, data must have two essential principles to be entirely accessible: the data must be technically and legally open.

  • Technically open: available in a standard machine-readable format, which means it can be retrieved and meaningfully processed by a computer application.
  • Legally Open: explicitly licensed in a way that permits commercial and non-commercial use and re-use without restrictions.

Defining a set of data as open requires that the data is presented within an application programming interface (API) to be accessed from outside the origin; We might structure data in a bulk download; and if it’s aimed at the average citizen, data should be available without requiring software purchases.

What can we expect of implementing Open Data?

Having shared data in our companies increases the likelihood of involvement by the average consumer, as well as potential customers. The availability of a public data set also makes it more likely that researchers, other companies, and other markets could help us to understand our own market fit and the possibilities.

I know what you’re thinking: “If I offer all my data, then what will I get in exchange?” Having your audience testing your data and giving you feedback could result in unexpected advantages:

  • Identify new features
  • Improve the existing process in your company
  • Discover new markets
  • Find an unexpected market fit
  • Have information about similar products around the world
  • More innovation

Success history for Open Data

One of the biggest successes for Open Data happened in Canada; two students helped to expose one of the biggest tax frauds in Canada’s history and saved Canadian taxpayers $3.2 billion just by checking the data from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). These two students were reviewing tax information from the 2005 annual report that charities return to the CRA. After discovering that the most prominent charity foundation in Canada didn’t appear in the top 15 of this list, they informed the CRA about irregular behavior or data inconsistency. This agency started an investigation that resulted in the shut down of charity tax shelters that didn´t exits and foundations that reported tax charities that never exist. For more info about it: https://eaves.ca/2010/04/14/case-study-open-data-and-the-public-purse/

Since 2012, we have seen the founding of the Open Data Institute which focuses on data’s business value. Also, a benchmark McKinsey study that pegged Open Data’s annual value at the U.S. $3 to $5 trillion. We witnessed the sale of the Climate Corporation, a pioneer Open Data company, to Monsanto for about $1 billion. Lastly, we have seen the launch of the Open Data 500 and the Open Data Impact Map which have documented the use of Open Data by thousands of companies worldwide.

We can find examples of Open Data portals in numerous cities across the U.S., such as San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Sacramento.

According to the European Data Portal, the benefits of implementing Open Data in local governments resulted in many benefits:

Benefits of using data in governments

How can we start?

Creating Open Data isn’t without its complexities. Many tasks need to happen before an Open Data project begins. For example, the first step for this is a full endorsement from leadership. Adding the project into the company’s workflow is another. After we set the foundation for Open Data, the handbook prescribes four steps:

  1. Choosing a set of data: This might sound pretty obvious but choosing a data set is more complicated than you might think. This data be a particular set based on your unique goals.
  2. Attaching an open license: You can find tips for reference at Opendefinition.org, a site that has a list of examples and links to open licenses that meet the definition of open use.
  3. Making it available through a proper format for your audience: we must package data in formats that all users can digest: developers, civic hackers, department staff, researchers and citizens. This could mean creating or modifying APIs, text and zip files, FTP servers and more. The file type and the system for download all depend on the audience that you want to reach.
  4. Ensuring the data is discoverable: The goal is to have a way to access all the formats and all the data, just once. Maybe you think “we have all this data available, let’s promote this on all the web sites that we can” but that is a terrible idea. Having many sources could give the idea that the data is not trustworthy. It is better to have a single trusted site where the public can find all our available data.

Conclusions

The reasons for opening our data are related to improving customer service. The final understanding behind sharing our data as a top company in the events industry is to find new ways to solve user questions requirements.

What possibilities might arise if we open our knowledge and ask other companies in the industry to do the same? What do you think? Drop us some lines in the comments or reach me on Twitter at @natuc_no.

Resources

  • California Open Data Handbook: A guide published by the Stewards of Change Institute. It explains what Open Data is, why it’s important and the technical nuances behind opening it up.
  • Sunlight Foundation, Open Data Guidelines: The Sunlight Foundation is a well-known open data advocate. These guidelines offer advice and best practices for governments that want to start an open data project.
  • Open Data Institute: In Europe and across the globe the ODI is making waves by linking open data with businesses and organizations. The organization offers tools, tips, and classes on open data use in addition to the certification of open data types.
  • The Data Transparency Coalition: A transparency lobbying group that has been working with legislators in Washington D.C. They have a website explaining and monitoring the issues around Open Data.
  • Open Data Definition: Do you want examples of “open” licenses that you can add to your data? This site has a collection of licenses for reference and use.
  • Data Collaboratives: open data ecosystem for private-sector.

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