Opportunities for citizens as open data revolution goes West

12 Oct 2011

'Open data is key to supporting a truly transparent and participatory democratic system'

The potential benefits of open data to public authorities, businesses, organisations and citizens will be studied at an ‘Opening Up Government Data’ event at the Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI) at NUI Galway next month.

The goal of the open data initiative is to motivate governments to make public information freely available and easily accessible online. The benefits of open data are economic, through the identification of new business opportunities, and also social, through increased transparency and accountability.

DERI is at the forefront of this movement, developing tools and technologies that are being adopted around the world.

Web standards developed at the institute have been adopted by US President Barack Obama’s administration in its open government initiatives. In Ireland, DERI collaborates with local authorities, such as Fingal County Council and the Local Government Computer Services Board, as well as the National Cross-Industry Working Group on Open Data to promote open data.

“One of the leading examples of opening up government data is data.gov, the US open data website launched by the Obama administration. Soon after, the UK launched data.gov.uk, and in total more than 140 regions and countries now publishes their data online,” Deirdre Lee, eGovernment Leader at DERI, explained.

“In Ireland, one of the early adopters has been Fingal County Council, with DUBLinked, a consortium of Dublin councils, set to launch a similar open data website.”

The open data opportunity

Today’s local and national governments generate and collect valuable information, be that demographic information, roads extension plans, teacher-pupil ratios in schools, hospital attendance rates or planning applications. Often this information is not publically available. Even if available, public information is often locked away in proprietary formats, making it difficult and expensive to find, analyse and reuse.

Prof Stefan Decker, director of DERI at NUI Galway, said: “Open data is key to supporting a truly transparent and participatory democratic system. It also enables entrepreneurs to build innovative applications and businesses around this data, resulting in job creation and general economic benefit. DERI’s eGovernment and Linked Data Research is leading the way nationally and internationally.”

With more than 140 researchers, DERI is one of the world’s leading international web science research institutes, and has a specific focus on the semantic web and networked knowledge. DERI is a centre for science, engineering and technology (CSET) established in 2003 with funding from Science Foundation Ireland. As a CSET, DERI brings together academic and industrial partners to boost innovation in science and technology, with its research focused on the semantic web. DERI has leveraged its SFI CSET funding to add significant additional research funding from the European Union, Enterprise Ireland, and industry sources.

The event is on Tuesday, 8 November.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years