Open data is good, because …

Belinda Weaver writes on the many benefits of open data

Contact: Twitter @cloudaus

Why should we advocate for open data? What benefits does it bring?

Transparency, for one.

Governments do stuff. We don’t always like it. It helps if we have the data to back up our objections. The Guardian datablog publishes and visualises a lot of information which helps pierce the opacity around government. Two examples – the costs of the post-GFC UK bank bailout and where UK spending actually goes. Both do a great job of communicating a message, and the data can be downloaded and reused.

The ABC’s FactCheck service is one way Australians can check on what governments are saying.

Open data makes things more efficient.

Disasters happen. In the helping phase, open data helps relief agencies get the information they need to direct operations on the ground. It helps governments get the plans and details of the infrastructure they need to fix. The New Zealand response to the Christchurch earthquake is a case in point. is a global source of information to help make disaster response quicker and more efficient.

Open data helps join things up.

Cities are complex beasts and making things work in synch requires a lot of planning and coordination. provides a platform for all kinds of data – transport, air quality – to be stored, interrogated and overlaid. Chicago and San Francisco in the US and Glasgow and Newcastle in the UK have all implemented Plenario for cities data. Data exists on a single map and a single timeline, making it easy to access multiple datasets at once, even those originally housed at different data portals.

Open data democratises access.

Codex Sinaiaticus, the Christian Bible in Greek, was handwritten more than 1,600 years ago, and is the oldest substantial book to survive antiquity. The manuscript contains the oldest complete copy of the New Testament.  Its text is of outstanding importance for the history of the Bible, and the manuscript is of supreme importance for the history of the book.  The MS is in four locations – London, St Petersburg, Sinai and Leipzig. Now the item has been fully digitised, scholars from anywhere can work on it. What was once accessible only to a privileged few is now open to all.

Open data enables new businesses.

The Go Brisbane app allows users to save favourite journeys and view timetables for them very quickly. This beats using official transport websites where getting the same information takes a whole lot longer. Open mapping information has created a range of new businesses – travel, holidays, restaurant guides, walking tours, direction finders … the possibilities are endless.

Open data saves lives.

‘Dr Internet’ is blamed for many false diagnoses, but it can also foster real ones. As more and more medical information becomes freely available, patients can investigate their problems and possibly find some answers, as this story shows

Have you got a good open data story? Share it here.

About the author

Belinda Weaver is eResearch Analyst Team Leader, Queensland Cyber Infrastructure Foundation.