In our first full year of operation, ODI Research will be focused on two key priorities: building the evidence base that demonstrates the impact of open data, and researching the infrastructures and methods that will transform how people discover open data that’s relevant to them and their needs. Read on to find out why we choose these topics, and about our other plans for the year.
It’s not uncommon for research to be seen as an optional extra – a “nice to have” to be invested in when times are good, and scaled back when finances are stretched. An alternative perspective says invest in research during a downturn, thereby ensuring you have rewards to reap when economics improve.
From my perspective as Head of Research at the ODI I see things differently. The ODI is a non-profit with a mission to support the success of others through open data, and therefore ODI research should serve a sustaining function for the community as a whole. Understanding and addressing open challenges in open data should be our core business.
It’s this perspective that’s driving our research agenda in 2014. Strictly-speaking, open data has been around for aeons, at least when you live at Web speed it has, but awareness is only now spilling over into the mainstream. With this, the ODI and open data in general have been enjoying an incredible honeymoon period. There have been many macro-economic studies that demonstrate the value of open data, but we need to supplement these with more detailed evidence that helps governments and other organisations make decisions about their open data strategies.
For this reason, the first of our two highest priorities for ODI research in 2014 is in building this evidence base. Some of it exists already, in case studies, research reports, academic papers, and anecdotes from those at the vanguard of open data. This is a great start, but we need to be much more systematic in collating this evidence, and more comprehensive – not least to help feed the ODI training programme with compelling examples of open data impact. We also, as the evidence base matures, will need to set higher standards for ourselves in terms of depth and rigour. A diversity of styles of evidence will always be important, as each will speak to different audiences, but we need to be confident that at the core is a research base of the highest scholarly standards.
It’s not for the ODI to be the sole developer of this evidence base – far from it. There are many stakeholders who are already actively contributing, and we hope that number will grow significantly. Where I believe the ODI can bring greatest value is in acting as a convenor and a focal point for this evidence base, and this will be our initial emphasis.
The other top priority of 2014 also speaks directly to the theme of sustaining – in this case of the momentum and energy of those working with open data. One of the most persistent questions posed by potential consumers is “where can I find the data?”. As yet there’s no credible answer to this question. A common response is to list a number of places to start looking, often followed by a list of caveats offered in the name of expectation management. This situation is neither acceptable or sustainable, on practical or credibility grounds, if open data is to continue its current trajectory.
To begin addressing this, we are collaborating with one of our commercial partners to develop a substantial research project exploring methods for open data discovery that will scale to massive numbers of data sets distributed across massive numbers of internet domains. We anticipate a range of applications of the research outcomes, not least the potential to support smart cities by tying together the vast and heterogeneous data resources generated in and relevant to a particular urban area.
As we explore this research direction, our FP7 research projects OpenDataMonitor and DaPaaS will continue to provide inspiration and insight regarding, respectively, how open data deployment is evolving, and how the needs of open data publishers and consumers can best be met. ODI tools and services, such as Open Data Certificates and CSVLint, will also provide frameworks against which we can assess how data is being published and where there are opportunities for improvement.
With those priorities on our agenda it’s going to a busy year for the ODI research team, but we also have our sights set on issues even closer to home. With the ODI in its second full year of operations, now is the time to review the metrics we use to measure our own success. Just as we’ll be researching the evidence of open data impacts more broadly, we’ll also be getting more rigorous and systematic about measuring the impacts of the ODI itself, be they economic, social or environmental. Naturally we’ll do everything we can in the open.