Home > Public Domain Data > Reflections on Why Open Data is not as Simple as it Seems article

Reflections on Why Open Data is not as Simple as it Seems article

Sabine de Milliano, in a relevant and thoughtful article in the GIS Professional newsletter entitled “Why Open Data is Not as Simple as it Seems,” eloquently raises several issues that have been running through this Spatial Reserves blog for the past five years.  She also raises concerns that have been in just about every data and GIS conference for the same amount of time to a new level. Rather than camping on the statement, “open data is great” and leaving it at that, Ms. de Milliano points out that “open data is much more complicated than simply collaborating on work and sharing results to help humanity move forward”.  She recognizes the “common good” of collaboration and innovation, and the transparency that results from open data. She states that access to open data is “only possible by solving the sum of technological, economic, political, and communication challenges.” Indeed.

In this blog and in our book, we have written extensively about the “fee vs. free” discussions that debate whether government agencies should charge for their data, and Ms. de Milliano sums up arguments on both sides. But she goes further and says that challenges to open data range from “ethical to practical”, and that there is a “large grey zone on what data should actually be shared and what should remain private.” What if someone creates a map based on your open data and someone else makes a fatal decision based on an error in this derivative product? Who is accountable?

For Ms. de Milliano, the biggest challenge of open data is discoverability and accessibility. She mentions open data portals including the Copernicus Open Access Hub, Natural Earth Data, USGS Earth Explorer, and the Esri ArcGIS Hub, and we have written about many others in this blog, such as here and here.  Ms. de Milliano holds an impressive set of GIS credentials and makes her points in an understandable and actionable manner.  Her article also points out that despite the advent of open data, some datasets remain “knowledge intensive”, meaning that only a limited number of users have sufficient technical background to understand how to process, analyze, and use them (such as SAR data) and therefore, they remain the domain of experts. I frequently touch on this point when I am teaching GIS workshops and courses, beginning with the thesis: “Despite data and technical advancements in GIS over the past 25 years, GIS is not easy. It requires technical expertise AND domain expertise.”  Effective use of GIS requires the user to be literate in what I see as three legs making up “geoliteracy”–content knowledge, skills, and the geographic perspective. I do not see skills as solely those of acquiring more competency in geotechnologies, but rather including equally important skills in critical thinking, dealing with data, being ethical, being organized, being a good communicator, and other skills.

Article about open data

Sabine de Milliano’s article about open data touches on many of the themes in this blog and in our book in an eloquent and thought-provoking way.

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Categories: Public Domain Data

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