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#AskTheBigQuestion: Why do we need Open Data?

Last year, the Avast Foundation sponsored the Climate and Environment prize in the Open Society Fund at Praha’s annual ‘Together We Open Data’ competition. The competition serves to highlight the importance and possibilities Open Data has for improving civil society. 

Miroslav Umlauf, Chief Data Officer at Avast and a long-time advocate for Open Data, sat on the expert jury which awarded the competition winners.

In our new #AskTheBigQuestion, we asked Miroslav to explain the concept of Open Data and describe how it holds the potential to empower citizens and enable us to solve complex social issues.

Almost everything we do in society has a corresponding reflection as data. That’s all thanks to the technologies we use to run and transform our lives, companies, and governments. Companies have already been successful in capturing the wealth of knowledge that can be derived from data. They’ve learned that with the right skills and technologies the data available can be turned into products which solve problems. Solving these problems is definitely not straightforward, but it is made more possible through using data - including Open Data.

Before we explore how, let’s first, let’s define Open Data...

Most likely, the first example of Open Data was seen in the late 50s USA with the development of GPS - global positioning system - for defense purposes. Later, this data was offered to businesses to increase the security of commercial flights and, 20 years ago, all the barriers got removed and within two years we saw the first personal navigation devices. Today, it’s hard to imagine life without this GPS technology.. Everyone benefits from it, often unconsciously.

Data is “open” when it is free for anyone, anywhere, to use for any purpose.

Open data has been in the spotlight for some time already and today we can say it exists, and organizations and governments provide access to more data. 

But, there are challenges…

Mere access to data doesn’t unlock value. Access is just the first step. It doesn’t make that data understandable and immediately useful. To do that we need to overcome a socio-technical challenge, ie getting the right mix of people and technologies together to derive value.

It’s like a restaurant kitchen. The raw ingredients are not served to the patrons - it’s the expert preparation which transforms them into a delicious dish. 

Where there are challenges there are opportunities…

There are great examples around the world which confirm that Open Data is a means by which a civil society can reap the benefits of data. Open Data has made some governments more transparent, opened innovation in public transport, and provided insight into quality of life. Inviting more people with the right data skills to discover the value of Open Data and to test their ideas in society is the way forward.

The future…

Data has the power to revolutionize, disrupt, and improve. And open data can improve the way societies are governed. The future of open data is a collaborative process with the aim of getting value to citizens. That value is defined by what the data can be used for and how many citizens benefit from it. This collaborative process is supported by our Avast Foundation.

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