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Mapping the Data Revolution

Link to live notes on Google Docs:

Team Members

Jonathan Gray, Director of Policy and Research, Open Knowledge + Research Associate, Digital Methods Initiative


In a remarkably short period the concept of "open data" has gone from being relatively niche concept in legal, information policy and technical circles, to gaining significant traction in political discourse at global and national level. To mention just a few recent highlights:

  • Upon assuming office in January 2009, US president Barack Obama said he was going to make open data a political priority as part of his Open Government Initiative.
  • Open data has been a central pillar of the global Open Government Partnership, a multilateral initiative launched in September 2011, that aims to "secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance". The Open Government Partnership now has over 65 members.
  • Last year the G8 launched an Open Data Charter, which argues that public information from governments should be open data by default, and arguing that open data is part of what is described as a global movement to "create more accountable, efficient, responsive, and effective governments".

This project at the DMI Winter School 2015 will have three main areas of focus: (i) mapping open data as a movement, (ii) mapping open data and privacy and (ii) mapping open budget data.

This project is undertaken in association with Open Knowledge, a global civil society organisation working to open up public information, research and culture to benefit the lives of citizens around the world. It will explore how digital tools and methods developed by the Digital Methods Initiatives and others can generate evidence for advocacy and policy development in civil society.

Mapping Open Data as a Movement

This part of the project will look at how open data is not a free-floating, ahistorical concept, but a malleable idea whose meaning is continually reconfigured in response to shifting conceptions and practices of governance and democracy in different contexts. It will examine open data as site of conflict and competition between different visions about value and potential of digital information.

It will aim to unpick and trace these different competing political visions and values around open data as an issue, and examine which of these are prominent and marginal in different spaces and amongst different sets of actors.

Example research questions might include:

  • How is open data shaping the transparency agenda?
  • How is open data gaining traction within different areas of civil society (e.g. climate, social justice)?
  • What kind of issues, topics and types of data are most prominent around open data as an issue?

As well as tracing open data as an issue, this part of the project might look at how issue mapping might assist in the study of open data as "data assemblages".

Mapping Open Data and Privacy

This part of the project will explore the interactions between open data, privacy and data protection as issues - for example in civil society, government, research and the private sector.

It will explore which actors are talking about both open data and privacy, what kinds of issues they are concerned about (e.g. anonymisation) and how these issues are being presented.

This empirical study will complement a legal analysis being undertaken by the University of Amsterdam's Institute for Information Law (IVIR), in association with UC Berkeley.

Example research questions might include:

  • Which actors are talking about both open data and privacy? And where are people talking about both open data and privacy (which countries, which media)?
  • Is open data present on the privacy agenda? And is privacy present on the open data agenda?
  • Does enthusiasm for data sharing pose a thread to privacy? And are arguments for privacy being used as an excuse not to disclose important information?
  • What are the most prominent privacy and data protection concerns around open data?
  • How are open data and privacy entangled as issues?
  • How do open data/privacy debates differ before and after Snowden leaks?
  • What is the status of Wikileaks and Snowden in the open data movement?
  • What is the status of different technical measures (encryption, anonymisation, etc) amongst different sets of actors?
  • Who is talking about "mydata" / "midata"?
  • What is the status of open data, data sharing and privacy arguments amongst different sets of actors in different sectors - e.g. in the health sector, amongst cancer patient groups or amongst AIDs patient groups?

Mapping Open Budget Data

This part of the project will look at how "open budget data" and "open budgets" are construed as issues amongst international organisations, governments, civil society groups and private sector actors.

Example research questions might include:

  • How is open data gaining traction within financial transparency movement?
  • What are different political visions and values articulated around open fiscal data?
  • To what extent are different arguments and visions around open budget data and open fiscal data prominent and marginal in different spaces?
  • What is the status of arguments around open fiscal data as an instrument of austerity and marketisation?

This empirical work will inform an analysis of the different conceptions, arguments and visions that different actors put forward in relation to open data about public finance.

Initial datasets

Research Questions

Clearly describe your research questions and hypotheses.


Explain your methodology.


Describe your findings.


Present a summary of what you found.


Discuss and interpret your data for the reader, tell the reader of the implications of your findings and make recommendations.


Topic revision: r5 - 17 Jan 2015, MahsaAlimardani
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