1. What is open data and why does it matter?

Open data is defined as data that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone – subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and share alike.  Data must be both legally and technically open, i.e., data must be placed in the public domain with minimal restrictions, and be available in machine-readable formats so that data can be used with freely available software. Additionally, when talking about open data, the focus is on data that is non-personal and identifiable.


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Key features of open data include:

  • Availability and access: the data must be available as a whole and at no more than a reasonable reproduction cost, preferably by downloading over the internet. The data must also be available in a convenient and modifiable form.
  • Reuse and redistribution: the data must be provided under terms that permit reuse and redistribution including the intermixing with other datasets. The data must be machine-readable.
  • Universal participation: everyone must be able to use, reuse and redistribute — there should be no discrimination against fields of endeavour or against persons or groups. For example, ‘non-commercial’ restrictions that would prevent ‘commercial’ use, or restrictions of use for certain purposes (e.g. only in education), are not allowed.


Credit: Wikimedia Commons


Open data is truly useful only if it is used for other products and services, and therefore, it is important to build . It is interesting to consider that if data is open, it can lead to several benefits including better services and  stimulation for innovation, as well as provide societal benefits.

There are many good examples of open data being used in a variety of applications, and select examples are listed below:

  • The Open Streets Map (OSM) is the map of the world created by people  and free to use under an open license. OSM is used by scientists, civil society groups and others everyday for a variety of geospatial applications. (shoutout to efforts in Nepal on digital mapping)
  • In the UK, open data on transport from Transport for London has led to a variety of applications including applications for journey planning, routes and fares and disruptions in the system.
  • In India, an open data initiative (Open Works) on city budgets and operations in Bengaluru, Karnataka is trying to catalyze citizen participation in governance, and push for transparency in decision-making. (take a look at the mapped data)
  • In the context of air quality, AIR Louisville in USA brings together the city’s public health department and a health management company and a research institute, and using a smart inhaler which combined with weather and traffic data is helping in identification of trigger points allowing for better management of air quality in the city.


“Government-collected data, when shared openly and in a timely manner, can bridge this gap by galvanizing communities, guiding effective data-driven mitigation policies and external, independent analyses, and helping answer remaining public health and economic policy-relevant science questions. It can also open up entirely new economic potentials, similar to how access to weather data spurred public and private innovations a few decades ago.”

Hasenkopf et al.,2016, Clean Air Journal

An overview of open data in Nepal from Open Knowledge Nepal: access the slides

An overview from Dr. Christa Hasenkopf, OpenAQ on the role of open data in air pollution: download slides



This section of the toolkit is derived from the Open Government Data Toolkit.

Header Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/notbrucelee/8016200072


Additional Resources

[1] Open Data Toolkit- http://opendatatoolkit.worldbank.org/en/essentials.html

  • This toolkit also includes training modules for data producers as well as users.

[2] Open Data Handbook- http://opendatahandbook.org