Three Laws of Open Data (International Edition)

When I published the Three Laws of Open Data post back on September 30, 2009 I was pleasantly surprised by how much traffic it garnered. In addition, a number of people emailed me positive feedback about the post (including some who read a revised version on the Australian Governments Web 2.0 Taskforce blog).

All this got me thinking – there must be a number of people out there for whom the three laws are hard to understand not because they are technical, but because I only ever blog in English. Just once I thought it would be cool to have a blog post be translated – and this post felt popular and important enough to be worthwhile. So I put out a twitter request asking if anyone might “localize” the three laws. After much positive feedback and generous help, I’ll be publishing the text below in several different major languages, one – and sometimes two – a day. If you’ve got friends or colleagues overseas who you think might be interested please send them the appropriate link!

You can read the post below in:

The Three Laws of Open Data:

Over the past few years I have become increasingly involved in the movement for open government – and more specifically advocating for Open Data, the sharing of information government collects and generates freely towards citizens such that they can analyze it, re-purpose and use it themselves. My interest in this space comes out of writing and work I’ve down around how technology, open systems and generational change will transform government. Earlier this year I began advising the Mayor and Council of the City of Vancouver helping them pass the Open Motion (referred to by staff as Open3) and create Vancouver’s Open Data Portal, the first municipal open data portal in Canada. More recently, the Australian Government’s has asked me to sit on the International Reference Group for it’s Government 2.0 Taskforce.

Obviously the open government movement is quite broad, but my recent work has pushed me to try to distill out the essence of the Open Data piece of this movement. What, ultimately, do we need and are we asking for. Consequently, while presenting for a panel discussion on Conference for Parliamentarians: Transparency in the Digital Era fro Right to Know Week organized by the Canadian Government’s Office of the Information Commissioner I shared my best effort to date of this distillation: Three laws for Open Government Data.

The Three Laws of Open Government Data:

  1. If it can’t be spidered or indexed, it doesn’t exist
  2. If it isn’t available in open and machine readable format, it can’t engage
  3. If a legal framework doesn’t allow it to be repurposed, it doesn’t empower

To explain, (1) basically means: Can I find it? If Google (and/or other search engines) can’t find it, it essentially doesn’t exist for most citizens. So you’d better ensure that you are optimized to be crawled by all sorts of search engine spiders.

After I’ve found it, (2) notes that, to be useful, I need to be able to use (or play with) the data. Consequently, I need to be able to pull or download it in a useful format (e.g. an API, subscription feed, or a documented file). Citizens need data in a form that lets them mash it up with Google Maps or other data sets, analyze in Open Office or convert to a standard of their choosing and use in any program they would like. Citizens who can’t use and play with information are citizens who are disengaged/marginalized from the discussion.

Finally, even if I can find it and use it, (3) highlights that I need a legal framework that allows me to share what I’ve created, to be able to mobilize other citizens, provide a new services or just point out an interesting fact. This means information and data needs to be licensed to allow the freest possible use or, ideally, have no licensing at all. The best government data and information is that which cannot be copyright protected. Data sets that are licensed in a manner that effectively prevent citizens from sharing their work with one another do not empower, it silences and censures.

Find, Use and Share. That’s want we want.

Of course, a brief scan of the internet has revealed that others have also been thinking about this as well. There is this excellent 8 Principle of Open Government Data that are more detailed and perhaps better suited for a CIO level and lower conversation. But for talking to politicians (or Deputy Ministers, Cabinet Secretaries or CEOs) I found the simplicity of these three resonates more strongly; it is a simpler list they can remember and demand.

24 thoughts on “Three Laws of Open Data (International Edition)

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