V. helpful mapping of the UK OGD landscape in 2012


Bates, J. (2012). ‘This is what modern deregulation looks like’ : co-optation and contestation in the shaping of the UK’s Open Government Data Initiative. Journal of Community Informatics, 8(2). Retrieved from http://ci-journal.net/index.php/ciej/article/view/845/916



"Open government data (OGD) emerges as one of the latest in a series of initiatives that have drawn on a developing logic regarding the socially progressive potential of 'open' models of information production and distribution. Open initiatives, through breaking down knowledge to the raw data and code, and abandoning models of false scarcity that restrict access, interpretation, and re-use, suggest the possibility of a significant reconfiguration of modes of understanding and production that have previously been shaped by dominant interests. However, open initiatives such as OGD emerge into a historical process, not a neutral terrain. Within the UK the convergence of a range of political and civil society networks engaged in the shaping of OGD marks a fruitful site of analysis for beginning to explore the interaction of hegemonic capitalist institutions with modes of production and citizenship that potentially contest key parts of its logic.

Whilst some advocates of OGD define it as apolitical (or, highlighting the reductionism present in such claims, non-partisan), this article will evidence that a deep seated political struggle is in progress. The civil society OGD initiative can be understood as part of the wider emergence of a new 'bloc' of historical actors frustrated by practices, deepened within the neoliberal era, that restrict and create asymmetries in the flow of information at the same time as technologies have developed that ease its sharing. It is therefore important to understand the relationship between these OGD advocates and the historical context in which they emerge, the scope for dominant interests to shape the initiative and the necessary progressive interventions that might need to be made in order to counter this threat.
Whilst the dominant narrative of OGD is guardedly optimistic with regard to its progressive impact on society, some critical studies of OGD have begun to emerge that are primarily focussed on the "effective use" of OGD (Gurstein, 2011), its potential role in "empowering the empowered" (Benjamin et al, 2007; Wright et al, 2010), and contextualising OGD in relation to broader modes of governance (Longo, 2011). This article further problematises the dominant optimistic narrative, arguing that the shaping of OGD is open to significant contestation. The aim of the article is to critically contextualise OGD within contemporary capitalist processes, focusing particularly on the situation in the UK where the OGD initiative intersects with the UK government's programme of forced 'austerity' and marketisation of public services, in order to better inform the engagement of those acting for progressive ends"



The OGD initiative
The demands of the civil society OGD advocates are for the online publishing of: Unrefined or raw public datasets [2] in an open, non-proprietary, technical format licensed for use, re-use and re-distribution without discrimination at marginal cost (which for digital resources is generally equal to or close to zero)
This is in line with the Open Definition (OKFN [1], n.d.) developed by the Open Knowledge Foundation (OKFN), which takes substantial inspiration from the Open Source Definition (OSI, n.d.). The definition, therefore, stipulates that in order to be defined as 'open', licences are not allowed to discriminate against type of user, for example, licences which prohibit commercial re-use are not allowed. Interviews with civil society advocates and event observations evidence there has been some debate around non-commercial licences, since some OGD advocates perceive a risk of commercial interests appropriating OGD into non-open systems, or corporate profits being subsidised through fully open commercial re-use of data. However, because problems emerge in defining 'commercial', restrictions can lead to licence interoperability issues which restrict innovation, and there are concerns that non-commercial terms could restrict emergent 'open' production models, most OGD advocates have tended to agree to commercial re-use despite their concerns. Although the Open Definition prohibits non-commercial terms, share-alike clauses are sanctioned. Data owners can therefore apply share-alike conditions to stipulate that re-users should apply a compatible licence on any derivatives or modifications to the original, thus going some way to prevent appropriation into non-open systems.

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Who is asking for Open Government Data (Bates, 2012).

The civil society networks that make up the OGD community are complex and engaged at different levels both with one another, the state, public bodies and the business community. The literature around OGD suggests civil society advocates are drawn from a number of domains, including open knowledge activism (OKFN & Access-Info, 2010), transparency/right to information activism (OKFN & Access-Info, 2010; Davies, 2010), PSI re-user businesses (Davies, 2010), and the linked data/semantic web community (Tinati et al, 2011). Interviewees from all categories highlighted that some of these civil society networks have been engaged in the field of information policy since at least the 1980s. This is particularly the case amongst private sector re-users of PSI who use public data to develop products and inform business processes, and transparency campaigners engaged in the push for access to government and environmental information. Over the years, individuals from these networks have taken up positions both advising, and directly employed within, the state (Interviews: Core Civil Society & Civil Service). This historical context to OGD is something that some more recent advocates are not always aware of, and tensions occasionally surface as a result. As one advocate stressed, "the Open Data crowd sometimes don't see what has been going on out there... So, they come up with ideas that could be problematic - like this thing of saying let's release all the data" (Interviews: Peripheral Civil Society).