Choose Dataset(s)

Choosing the dataset(s) you plan to make open is the first step to take – though remember the whole opening up data process is iterative and you can return to this step if you encounter problems later on.

If you already know exactly what dataset(s) you plan to open up you can move straight on to the next section. However, in many cases, especially for large institutions, choosing what datasets to focus on is a challenge. How should one proceed in this case?

Creating this list should be a quick process that identifies which datasets could be made open to start with. There will be time at later stages to check in detail whether each dataset is suitable.

There is no requirement to create a comprehensive list of your datasets. The main point to bear in mind is whether it is feasible to publish this data at all (whether openly or otherwise) - example see the ‘What Data’ section above.

Asking the community

We recommend that you ask the community in the first instance. That is, the people who will be accessing and using the data, are likely to have a good understanding of which data are valuable.

  1. Prepare a short list of potential datasets that you would like feedback on. It is not essential that this list concurs with what your expectations are, the main intention is to get a feel for the demand. This could be based on other countries’ open data catalogues.
  2. Create a request for comment.
  3. Publicise your request with a webpage. Make sure that it is possible to access the request on its own URL. That way, when shared via social media, the request can be easily found.
  4. Provide easy ways to submit responses. Avoid requiring registration, as it reduces the number of responses.
  5. Circulate the request to relevant mailing lists, forums and individuals pointing back to the main webpage.
  6. Run a consultation event. Make sure you run it at a convenient time where the average business person, data wrangler and official can attend.
  7. Ask a politician to speak on your agency’s behalf. Open data is very likely to be part of a wider policy of increasing access to government information.

Cost basis

How much money do agencies spend on the collection and maintainence of data that they hold? If they spend a great deal on a particular set of data, then it is highly likely that others would like to access it.

This argument may be fairly susceptible to concerns of freeriding. The question you will need to respond to is, “Why should other people get information for free that is so expensive?” The answer is that the expense is absorbed by the public sector to perform a particular function. The cost of sending that data, once it has been collected, to a third party is approximately nothing. Therefore, they should be charged nothing.

Ease of release

Sometimes, rather than decide which data would be most valuable, it could be useful to take a look at which data is easiest to get into the public’s hands. Small, easy releases can act as the catalyst for larger behavioural change within organisations.

Be careful with this approach however. It may be the case that these small releases are of so little value that nothing is built from them. If this occurs, faith in the entire project could be undermined.

Observe peers

Open data is a growing movement. There are likely to be many people in your area who understand what other areas are doing. Formulate a list on the basis of what those agencies are doing.