Last week at the PolitCamp Graz I had the pleasure to meet Keith Andrews, who’s a professor there, and attend his session on how to unlock and use general data that has been gathered and paid for with tax payers money. Our public data.
Hans Rosling has some pretty compelling examples of what you can do IF (and it really is a big if) you can get access to the data that is all there (and it really is all there), and if you succeed in presenting it in a way that is more enticing than tables with numbers.

Social software thrives on heaps of data and information, and here’s this mountain of data that hardly anybody has access too. This is the public parallel of what I see in corporations as well when it concerns business intelligence (BI). With huge amounts of money systems are put in place that collect insane amounts of data, and then only a handful of specialists create half a dozen management reports from that, leaving most of the data untouched. I remember an information manager who was surprised at the clever questions professionals in his corporation were able to ask the dataset, when he gave them access to it, which his own BI-people or higher management would never think of to ask. Having access to the data we collectively have made possible to gather therefore to me is not just a question of pursuing the ideal of ‘openness’ and transparancy in general, but a way to create so much more opportunties for people to act upon, based on the additional information available.

Making that access possible brings the need for a better presentation layer. Visualization aspects, and constructing queries etc. But it starts with convincing those who now manage the public databases to open up their data in RDF format so it can be used for web based mash-ups. This means a shift in attitude for these institutes/people, as usually their respons now to requests for data is one of suspicion: “What will you be using it for?”. Examples of this were abundant in the discussion at the PolitCamp session. I think this is one more type of gatekeeper we can do without.
In this light I am also looking forward to Reboot, where a session on Free Public Data is proposed.