Ways of thinking about data: Open data, civic data
We said in our introduction that our guide is not a primer on Open Data. That's true, and we recommend a number of other resources that do a good job covering the nitty-gritty of Open Data. Here we offer just a little information about some terms that we that they represent slightly different concepts.
Open Data generally describes data that are free to access, use, and reuse by anybody for any purpose; are available in a usable, often machine-readable formats; and which can be modified and shared by others. The great accessibility and permissive use of open data make it very appealing. Substantial investments are often needed to prepare, describe, and reliably publish such data. Openness can conflict with privacy and ethical issues related to certain types of data.
Although we may assume that public data are electronic and web-accessible, much of it is not. There's plenty of data on paper, such as data published in print reports. And, in many cases when these kinds of publications are available digitally, the data is still contained in a table inside a PDF or may only be distributed on physical media such as DVD or CD. From a practical point of view, this is not truly web-accessible open data and may have limited usefulness to the public.
Open data as a concept is not associated with any one domain. However, two of the most prominent categories of open data are 1) research and science, and 2) government and civic data.
So, let's move on to Civic Data, which is the focus of the Civic Switchboard project. We like the term civic data because it is information that describes our communities. Civic data can include not only data produced by governmental organizations, but also non-profits, civic institutions (like libraries!), and other community-based organizations. Data created by or about individuals are also in scope; such data can powerfully represent alternative perspectives and stories. Sometimes law or policy requires that certain civic data be open to the public. However, not all civic data is open data. Sometimes that's because of the need to legitimately protect privacy or confidential information. Other times, data owners don't have sufficient resources required to prepare, describe, and publish the data in a usable format.
Last modified 6mo ago
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