Open data explained through the medium of Blue trousers (and chickens)

“Yes but *why* is open data important?”

When acting as Commissioner on The Speaker’s Commission for Digital Democracy I was often asked what was the single most important recommendation we could make. I always replied “open data”, here is why:

You know how if you go online to buy a pair of blue trousers. You have a bit of a mooch around and regardless of whether you bought a pair or not, blue trousers will thereafter follow you around the Internet. In your Facebook page, your gmail, your online news channel, somewhere on those pages you will have blue trousers suggested to you.

We know this, we even expect it even though we used to find it creepy. These machine learned behaviours and smart algorithms are just something we accept, something we have come to assume as normal.

But this only happens because that blue trouser data is open to freely move about.

Now in Parliament, the information is not ready yet for this kind of movement around the web. It is *designed* to be destination data, you have to go to it, on the website.

Retro right?!

But way more importantly, more significantly, our learned behaviour pattern means that if something is not actively moved into our digital space, we are more than likely to miss it. When Parliamentary data is open you will find out about what is happening in Parliament that might interest you, using exactly the same voodoo that is used to serve you every variety of blue trouser.

Let’s say you are a lady who is totally nuts about chickens, you have hundreds of them as your pets. A Bill is going through Parliament that is going to make the ownership of chickens illegal. Until that data is open, you will only know about this by seeking out the information elsewhere – yet how could you realistically know about everything going through Parliament? Once the data is open, you will have the Ban the chickens Bill across all your online spaces, and you will be able to then do something to fight your chicken cause. And so it is important.

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