Open Data Has Little Value If People Can't Use It

Craig Hammer | Harvard Business Review | March 29, 2013

Open data could be the gamechanger when it comes to eradicating global poverty. In the last two years, central and local governments and multilateral organizations around the world have opened a range of data — information on budgets, infrastructure, health, sanitation, education, and more — online, for free. The data are not perfect, but then perfection is not the goal. Rather, the goal is for this data to become actionable intelligence: a launchpad for investigation, analysis, triangulation, and improved decision making at all levels.

While the "opening" has generated excitement from development experts, donors, several government champions, and the increasingly mighty geek community, the hard reality is that much of the public has been left behind, or tacked on as an afterthought. So how can we support "data-literacy" across the full spectrum of users, including media, NGOs, labor unions, professional associations, religious groups, universities, and the public at large?

Here's one approach...  I'm not suggesting that everyone on planet Earth should be trained in statistical analysis, visualization and app development. Rather, let's work more with journalists and civic groups. Knight Fellow Justin Arenstein calls these folks "mass mobilizers" of information. O'Reilly Media's Alex Howard points to these groups in particular because they can help demystify data, to make it understandable by populations and not just statisticians.