We have written many posts over the last two years on open data and the many data portals that are now available, providing open access to a range of datasets. However as Anders Pedersen (Open Knowledge Foundation) recently remarked during a data skills training initiative, open data does not end with setting up an open data portal; it’s not enough to just make the data available, the data also has to be ‘reusable and redistributable’.That means publishing the data in more open formats, such as .csv and .txt as opposed to pdfs, to provide the widest possible access to the data.
Pedersen also urged those responsible for establishing data portals to remember that once a data portal is operational the work doesn’t end there. Much remains to be done to keep the site and its content up to date, and promoting the portal to make sure people know about it and what information it provides access to. This means those who maintain portals must have the necessary data collection, management and visualisation skills to support this ongoing effort. Improved access should widen the potential audience for the data, something Pedersen argues will be good for data quality; other agencies and interested citizens will help validate the data, hence ‘more eyes, better data’.
We have reported some examples of portals that have slipped into obsolescence due to a lack of continued support and the comments from Frank Biasi (National Geographic Maps) who reflected on the demise of a conservation geoportal noting, amongst other things, that “.. the concept of sharing data is much more advanced than the practice“. Training initiatives like those offered by the OKF will hopefully help those involved with open data learn from the experiences of others and avoid some of the mistakes of earlier projects.
A recent essay and presentation by my colleague Jan Willem van Eck about breaking down open data barriers provides instructive insight on the developments in the field of open data pertaining to geospatial information, and why it all matters. Van Eck states that “open data is a multi-perspective topic (e.g. transparency, economic, political)” but also that “these perspectives do not necessarily overlap.” Hmm… very true. How can we bring these perspectives together? Through continued efforts in conferences, essays, videos, webinars, and other means of communication in which many in the geospatial community are involved.
From his examples, it is clear that compelling cases of successful projects that thrived because data were in fact open are still needed, despite recent progress made. It is also clear from his statements that often the most successful examples are ones that combine government agencies, research institutions, and companies; in other words, not just from government agencies alone. One example he mentions is the new national elevation data for The Netherlands. Software developments such as the open data app from Esri are other significant steps forward.
Van Eck identifies three major challenges: Drawing a line between government and industry’s activities, ensuring the continuity of the data stream, and protecting privacy. But I think the most instructive part of his essay and his presentation is his admonition of aligning open data supply and demand. How can organizations know what the demand is unless those of us who are actually using GIS make it known what is needed? The continued journey toward breaking down open data barriers is something most of us in the geospatial community can and should promote. The fact that van Eck was permitted to present this topic at a recent EuroSDR meeting was significant. As he states, discovering the real value of open data for society as a whole should be our goal, not the benefits for just a few organizations. As he makes clear, “open (geo)data is too important to just leave up to government.”
In April we wrote about the launch of the Sentinel-1A satellite, part of the European Union’s Copernicus Earth Observation project, and the plans to make the data publicly available. Although the satellite is still being calibrated and not yet fully operational, it has already provided some radar data to help support the recent flood mapping activity in the Balkans. As the radar on-board Sentinal-1A can operate through cloud, rain and in darkness it is especially useful for monitoring floods.
After persistent heavy rainfall resulted in widespread flooding and a number of landslides in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the emergency services needed access to accurate and current maps of the region to support the relief effort. The data from Sentinel-1A helped identify areas of flooding that the emergency services were unaware of.
The Sentinel-1A satellite has also helped monitor flooding when the Zambezi River burst its banks in April, inundating the border between Namibia, Zambia and Botswana. Data from the satellite were made available to the Namibian authorities within three hours of collection, providing near real-time information for an area had been difficult to survey on the ground.
Given the impact Sentinel-1A has already had, the Earth Observation project looks set to make a major contribution to environmental monitoring and assessment. The satellite will soon be fully operational, helping to provide some of the data that will support a more holistic approach to environmental management.
In this column, and in our public domain data book, we frequently write about issues of geospatial data privacy. In response to what many perceive to be a rapid erosion of data privacy, some attempt to keep their own data as private as possible by hosting their own web apps running on their own computer server. A recent article in Wired discusses one way to do this, with a small device from Indie Box. The Box includes a tools to run a calendar, address book, file sharing, photo album, and an email client. Eventually, its developers want the box’s software to be available so people can use their own hardware. And they also want the box to act as a hub for devices on the Internet of Things.
The philosophy behind using this device and tools reflects the Indie Web Movement, whose followers seek to expand options for opting out of company-run services such as Facebook and Google Drive. Using Indie Box is just one method of “opting out” of sharing their data with national security agencies and private companies–many others exist. The geospatial community has long had options to keep data private. But as web based solutions expand alongside privacy concerns, so too will options to keep geospatial data private and the movement behind it all.
The European Atlas of the Seas, launched in 2011, provides open access to a variety of global and European maritime and geographical datasets covering eight main themes:
- Nature – bathing water quality, protected areas
- Tourism – museums, aquariums
- Security and safety – major oil spills, accident density
- People and employment – coastal population, employment in the fishing industry
- Transport and energy – shipping for goods and passenger transport.
- Governance and European policies – fisheries local action groups (FLAGs), regional advisory councils (RACs)
- Fisheries and aquaculture – fishing quotas, state of fish stocks, fish farms
The Atlas is continually updated with revised and additional datasets provided by the contributing departments, agencies and international organisations including UNESCO, FAO, USDA FSA, USGS, NOAA, Esri and IHQ. Some of the datasets are available to download in shapefile and KML format, and the accompanying metadata provide details on the data sources referenced.