Open data is frequently promoted as a ‘good thing’, rather in the sense of the Sellar & Yeatman classic “1066 and All That“, where something is either a ‘good thing’ or a ‘bad thing’. As is explained in “Open data is not enough” by Raka Banerjee from the World Bank in his July 2011 blog, open data that is inaccurate and biased is a ‘bad thing’ and rather than being of not much use, such data can actually cause harm when used by statisticians and researchers to inform policy.
Scientists are normally quite clear about data quality but when open data is becoming part of a demand culture, unless those supplying it are aware of and sensitive to the outcomes that may result by its use, the citizens are in more danger from the production of the data than from its absence. About a year I posted upon the topic of “Council Web Costs“, following a newspaper report employing Freedom of Information data, where the person requesting it had limited knowledge of either web development or local government. The resulting figures were unhelpful to say the least.
Imagine a similar context where health policy was being decided based upon data that had been extracted similarly, not only would money be wasted investing in the wrong places, but underinvestment might take place where support was urgently needed. Open data is only a ‘good thing’ when we are assured that the data is good, and that is the job of both the requestor and the supplier.