Open Data

At Code the City we care passionately about Open Data – something that drove the formation of our organisation and has sustained our work.

While you’d struggle to find any of our main hack events that didn’t use or generate open data, it goes much deeper than that.

Our work spawned Open Data Scotland – a spin-off project that has its own momentum. Our other spin-off project, Air Aberdeen uses citizen-created and hosted air quality monitoring devices which generate open data about the local air quality. For the last two years we’ve hosted the Scottish Open Data Unconference which we kicked off in 2020. We also hosted the UK Open Data Camp in 2018.

So let’s get back to basics….

What is open data?

Open data is data that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone – subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and share alike. While most open data will have been provided by Government, other datasets are published by community groups, charities and companies. The key thing to remember – whether you are a data publisher or would-be data user, there must be a clear licence which shows what someone can do with that data.

As part of the Open Data Scotland project we’ve a fuller answer on this project page.

Why is open data a good thing?

We believe that open data does three things:

  • It provides transparency,
  • It encourages participation and engagement and
  • It creates social and commercial potential.

If your local council provides open data on what it spends its money on; or which councillors supported a local project and which did not; or what the investment is in each school, then that transparency is good for democracy.

If citizens know what the answers to these questions are, then they are likely to be more engaged and participate in meaningful dialogue with elected officials on matters as they arise – not just once every election cycle.

And by releasing data government can encourage others to be creative – building new apps and services – fostering a start-up culture and stimulating academic activity around the data too.

Our Trustee, Ian Watt co-authored this 2022 Briefing Paper on open data in Scotland, What is Open Data and Why Does it Matter, for the David Hume Institute.

This video from the Helsinki Region Infoshare team explains it very well (in English).

What can I do with open data?

If you find some data that you’d like to use, first check what licence it has been published with. If there is no explicit licence then you should assume it is copyright and not open. You can request that it be opened.

If there is a licence, check what it is. If it is Open Government Licence V3 (as much public sector data is) then you can copy the data, incorporate it in your project, adapt it by mixing it with other data or summarising or sub-setting it, and you can use it commercially and non-commercially. But, you must credit the source.

Similarly, if the licence is CC-BY-SA then you can do the same – and you must credit the source and offer any derivative product under the same licence conditions.

If the data is released as CC0 – then this is an open licence and the most generous. You can do as you wish with it, needn’t credit it the source (although it is polite) and you are not constrained in how you can licence any derivative works. Wikidata, which is a massive community-curated data set of many million items, is published with a CC0 licence.

How can I get involved?

There are many ways to get involved. Here are some ideas:

  • We have an active Open Data Scotland Slack Group where you can engage with others – publishers, users, coders and developers, journalists, data viz specialists and more. Drop by and say hello.
  • Come to one of our hack weekends and work on a project with others. Much of the work on Open Waste Map was done at a succession of our hack weekends.
  • Attend the next Scottish Open Data Unconference (SODU) in Autumn 2022
  • If you are a developer, help us build the Open Data Scotland portal where we are pulling the many and various open datasets in Scotland. We’ve an active project on GitHub repo with loads of issues you can help with.
  • If you want to publish data, but don’t know where to start, have a chat with us on the Slack Group above.

Header image: Jan Ainali, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons