Today’s digital world offers organisations an unprecedented opportunity to communicate information. Open data is no longer only useful for research, evaluation and measurement. It can only be turned into a powerful PR tactic if practitioners are aware of its advantages and understand its risks.
Open data is data that can be freely distributed, shared and communicated to make knowledge available. It is not tied by any copyright restrictions and, importantly, does not contain confidential information. One of the most reliable and most important data sources in the UK has been made available by the government on its data.gov.uk website, where anybody can browse an endless quantity of materials, from government payments to aerial photographs and crime rates.
There are several arguments in favour of the use of open data that your business could benefit from:
- Open data belongs to the human race. Organisations specialising in science, such as hospitals, universities leading research projects, or charities specialised in environmental changes should capitalise on the communication of this data.
- Publicly-funded data should be made available to the public. Councils and governments are particularly concerned with this argument. One of the main concerns of these institutions should revolve around how they make an impact in the communities they operate in.
- Open data fosters socio-economic development. This compelling and altruistic stance argues that sector like health, education, transport, estate sector could serve a greater number of people, for the better.
- Open data enhances research. In a similar vein, data that is available to everyone can serve humanity in its quest for knowledge and innovation.
If you are willing to explore the opportunities that opening your data could bring, you should also be aware of certain financial considerations. Publicly releasing your information might involve hiring qualified workers to professionally review the quality, confidentiality and security around the use of your data. Making this information available might also require investment in specific software, programs or apps that are compatible with your data.
More importantly, it is of paramount importance that this competence goes in hand with the embodiment of the highest ethical, intellectual property, confidentiality and privacy standards.
The Open Data Institute, co-founded in 2012 by the inventor of the internet, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, and Artificial Intelligence expert, Sir Nigel Shadbolt, advocates for the innovative use of open data to affect positive change across the globe, whilst also “protecting people’s privacy, commercial confidentiality and national security […], striving to find the right balance for all societies and economies to feel data’s benefits fairly”. The Institute places ethical considerations at the core of its values and has shared its “Data Ethics Canvas” to help organisations manage those successfully.
As the sector leader, the UK is now at the forefront of the open data revolution. Organisations are increasingly sharing their information to improve governance, raise awareness, empower stakeholders and boost engagement. Ultimately, building a trustworthy data ecosystem will promote better understanding between the different actors of your company, while demonstrating accountability and transparency.
Useful resource: CIPR, May 2017. Open Data: What is it and how does it help you or your business?
Special thank you to Paul Wilkinson for his invaluable course on the CIPR’s CPD learning platform.