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5 tips to opening your data


You've seen the pronouncements about the volumes of data that power the world around us and that this is increasing exponentially. But where’s all this data coming from?  

A great deal of it comes from the rise of the machine age as more and more of our daily lives is managed or supported by computers, machines and automation.  

Machines generate data, and a lot of it. But a lot of it comes from people like you – going about your work day, collecting evidence, doing research and analysing data to achieve outcomes. 

While we're busy focusing on making those outcomes happen and deliver on our targets, it’s easy to treat the data that we’re generating as a second class citizen and just park it somewhere once we're done with it. This overlooks the fact that our data is part of a rising tide of knowledge that can often be shared and reused to make the world a better, more informed and more knowledgeable place. 

Remember those stories about how data can be put to use in surprising and valuable ways? Say for instance, how the release of trucking volumes by NZTA led to ANZ bank's Truckometer which provides an impressively accurate forecast of NZ’s GDP growth? It would be an awful shame if NZTA had only ever used their data to forecast road maintenance costs and then just filed it away somewhere. 

Here are 5 quick tips to help you be kind to your data and let it realise its potential. 

1: Make sure the data is non-personal  

Make sure the data is appropriately protected. If, later on, you find that the data can be aggregated and anonymised in ways that don’t risk exposure of any sensitive personal information, then come back and carry on reading the rest of these tips. The Privacy Commission has an excellent description as to what is meant by the term "Personally Identifiable Information (PII)".  

2: Do a ‘sanity check’ 

Reasons like public safety, commercial sensitivity or national security implications might suggest your data can’t be released. If not, you can continue onwards through our tips. 

3: Check rights ownership

If copyright over the data you’re holding or using is held by another party, only they have the right to make decisions about making it available for reuse. Owning the copyright in a digital asset is required to be able to license it for others to reuse. In New Zealand, the New Zealand Open Access and Licensing (NZGOAL) framework is a real help. It also has a handy decision tree to speed up the process. 

4: Use policy to support opening up your data

If you’re still here, then it’s likely that your data not only can, but should be made available for reuse. There is some useful New Zealand Government policy to help your case for releasing your data.

Firstly, in 2011 Cabinet approved the "Declaration on Open and Transparent Government" stating ""Building on New Zealand’s democratic tradition, the [New Zealand] government commits to actively releasing high value public data." It's worth reading over and sets out the benefits of opening up Government data for citizens, businesses and government itself to reuse.

Secondly, the New Zealand Data and Information Management Principles set out a series of 8 principles to help guide your thinking on why and how to open your data up. 

5: Consider how you describe and support your data 

Finally, since you’re still here and thinking about making your data available for reuse, giving some thought to how you describe and look after your data now and in the future will help you get well on the road to doing the right thing. It's a good idea to think about: 

  • Licensing. Before you release… 
  • Maintenance. Does it need to be kept up to date? How will you do that? Otherwise make sure you indicate… 
  • Format. Spreadsheets are good for humans but not so good for reuse and building on top of. Can you provide the dataset in a machine readable format? 
  • Metadata - schema and including provenance, constraints, quality, completeness.  
  • Publication. Where are you going to publish your data? How will people find it (you'll want to look at getting a publisher account for to ensure it's discoverable)? 
  • Support. Who will people contact if they have questions?  

Have a read over the toolkit article about metadata and the pre-release checklist to help with your pre-release checks. 



Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash



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