31.01.2014

Disclaimer: I work for Liip, the company that build the Open Data pilot portal for Switzerland. I'm one of the developers of the portal. On the other hand, I'm a member of the opendata.ch association.

Although I'm a relatively new member of the Open Data community, I use and work with Open Data in different forms for many years now. I'm a keen enthusiast of the underlying idea of openness, collaboration and knowledge sharing. But the whole idea of Open Government Data (OGD) in Switzerland is currently broken. There are numerous problems and it probably all boils down to false expectations.

To make new data known to the public, often the first idea is to make an app contest. At first this sounds like a good idea: People working with your data and creating an app. It sounds like a win-win situation. Some may even think it's cheap way to get a lot of apps. The problem is, that contests have winners. And when there are winners, there must be losers. Your data is much too valuable, and every contribution is too important to waste time to choose a winner.

  • You limit the interest in the data (why should I continue my project if I just lost a contest?).
  • You limit the collaboration between the different groups that take part in the contest (why should I help somebody else to create a better app, if that decreases my chances to win this contest myself?).

The goal of an OGD data owner should be, that a lot of people know and use your data. This makes it worth to create this data in the first place. It doesn't matter if it is used by a special interest group or by an app used by millions of people.

On the other side, hackathons provide a good environment to play around, talk with different people and hack along. This is the kind of thing we need. Please understand that after such an event there are tons of ideas around. Prototypes, unfinished apps, visualizations etc. This is all very valuable. Don't expect a bunch of polished, ready-to-use apps as a result.

Most data owners consider it a failure if nothing happens after they release data. This is just plain wrong. The whole point of Open Data is to open your data. It's done. It's out there. Anyone that is interested can use this data. You never know when this is. Eventually someone creates a mashup, where you dataset is the missing piece.

What if this does not happen? It doesn't matter. Maybe the time was not right. Maybe this dataset is just not interesting enough. But that doesn't mean it was not worth to open it.

But of course there some things that you can and should do. Here is my little list of DOs and DON'Ts:

DO

  • Talk about your data (speeches, blog posts)
  • Make events to explain your data
  • Bring cool swag to hackathons (for everyone!) :)
  • Invite people to visit you, connect your experts with the community
  • Provide help to process your data
  • Open Source the tools you use internally to make them available for everybody
  • Make sure to involve the media (yes, if you release your data or make an event, invite them)
  • Coordinate with the community, ask questions, don't make assumptions

DON'T

  • Measure the success of your Open Data by the amount of apps/visualization build with it. Actually, don't measure the success at all. Concentrate on releasing new and interesting data.
  • Expect people to do your work
  • Assume everybody was just waiting for your data and must be grateful for it. Give people time to discover your data
  • Think that a press release is all it takes to get attention from the media
  • If you have a budget for Open Data, don't spend it for someone to create an app with your data. Use it to organize events, invite people, do whatever you are best at!
  • Seriously: No more contests, no more fucking prizes.


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