Open Government Data Goes Global - OGDCamp Keynote

NOVEMBER 24, 2010

This is the keynote I gave as the opening to Open Government Data Camp 2010. Accompanying slides.


Hello and Welcome!

I’m Rufus Pollock from the Open Knowledge Foundation. We’re delighted to have such great a group of people here and many thanks to all of you that have come, especially if you’ve travelled a long way.

And thanks of course to all of our sponsors who have kindly supported the travel expenses of those who could not otherwise afford to get here

I hardly need to tell you that things are really moving now in the world of open government data. After the pioneering work here in the UK and in the US, dozens of countries have now launched OGD initiatives and dozens more have things on the boil. Hundreds of developers have developed hundreds of web applications using open government data.

Projects like Gapminder are enabling us to gain new insights into everything from development trends to flu pandemics. The pioneering They Work For You (which enables anyone to easily follow a given person or topic in parliament) now has sister projects in everywhere from Chile to Lithuania. People are creating maps and mobile applications to enable you to find your nearest hospital, park, toilet, or anti-social behavioural order (ASBO)

Projects built using OGD let you do everything from plotting the quickest and most scenic bicycle route between two given locations, to finding places where you can afford to live that are within a certain travel time from your work, to finding out where large public subsidies are disbursed to different companies across different regions, to finding out how where your pennies are spent per day.

At the Foundation we have a slogan to keep ourselves from getting carried away which is ideas are cheap, implementation is costly. While it’s often easy to come up with an interesting idea, the hard part is building it, and building it really well.

That said, the world of open government data is powered by good ideas. All of the amazing projects which people have built will have once started out with a small and simple question: wouldn’t it be cool if?

Wouldn’t it be cool if I could be emailed every time someone plans to build something new in the area that I live in?

Wouldn’t it be cool if every time my parliamentary representative says stuff about something I’m interested in?

Wouldn’t it be cool if I look up on my phone the journey time between any two locations in Europe using only land-based public transport?

Wouldn’t it be cool if I could cross-reference data on working hours, well-being and weather for 100 different countries in a single click?

And so on!

‘Great!’ I hear you say. But how can we actually do any of these things. Ideas are very important, but how can we make sure this stuff gets built? Well, there is going to be no straightforward, comprehensive formula to making sure that all this stuff gets done. But in order to ensure that people can get started we need to do a couple of basic things:

1. Use an open license

By using an open license you are giving people certainty – and letting them know – that they can freely use, reuse and redistribute that material and this is essential if you want people to come along and do something interesting stuff with it.

Without an open licenses we’re living in a world of confusing signals – and that means data-jams! We really need to give people a big green light to let them know that they can take that data and make things with it. The second thing we need to to is:

2. Provide raw machine readable data

What does that mean? Well if material is originally in a database or spreadsheet format then make it available like that (or in the closest raw form) – and please don’t create a PDF or serve it up only via some fancy Shiny Front End (which is lovely for anyone who knows how to work it, but absolutely useless for anyone who doesn’t).

As I wrote back in 2007: Give Us The Raw Data and Give It To Us Now.

Over the next couple of days we’re going to be gathering interesting examples of why this matters at So if you have any cunning ideas for how to explain what raw data is to non-technical folks in government, or if you have any good anecdotes (the uglier the better), then please let us know!

These two things in themselves are not very hard. It really boils down to being very explicit about letting people reuse stuff (spell it out!), and dumping whatever database files you have on a server somewhere and linking to it somewhere where people will find it.

The main challenge is in convincing government that this is a Good Idea. How we can do this is something that we’d definitely like to encourage you to talk to each other about over the course of the event. What are the difficulties in your country? How did you overcome them? What do we need to do this well? Good examples? Good old fashioned evangelism? This event is about sharing your answers to these kinds questions.

Another big theme of this event will be answering the question: OK, so we’ve have opened up the data, now what?

Suppose you already have public bodies releasing a nice set of raw data on a web server under an open license what do we do now?

Well, first off we need to make sure the data is easy to find, and easy to reuse and to do this we may want to start a data catalogue, like,, or data dot dot dot dot.

Data catalogues are an essential part of the plumbing for an ecosystem of open data.

At the Open Knowledge Foundation we are working hard on CKAN, which an open source system currently used in and over 20 catalogues around the world. If you’d like to talk to us about starting up a catalogue in your country, please come and say hello. We’d be delighted to help you set one up!

We are currently working hard to start to connect together and federate different catalogues so we can more easily pull data together from lots of different countries with a few clicks of the mouse. And always remember why we’re doing this – a data catalogue, or even open data is is a means to an end: a way to make it easier for us to build tools and services that make our world better in some way, big or small, a better place.

Finally, let’s remember this is just beginning – and we should enjoy the journey!