How can open data portals become sustainable?
By Tom Sasse
Open data portals are an important part of our data infrastructure. They enable data-holders to publish data so that people can find and use it. We use portals to publish and discover all sorts of data.
With a reliable supply of data businesses and governments can build apps and services that citizens benefit from and come to rely on. Portals therefore play a vital role in allowing data to flow freely and create value.
The way that people discover data is changing
In the medium term, data is being made available through multiple portals so users can find it more easily. Regional portals, community portals and national portals increasingly publish data or metadata from other portals. The European Data Portal, which was launched in 2015, harvests metadata from national portals to make data more accessible. Driving these initiatives is portability: making data discoverable through multiple portals will help maximise its value.
In the longer term, how people discover data will change more radically. Publishing and searching for data on the web is still in its infancy. We don’t know yet how the web of data will evolve, but we can look at how we search the web of documents has evolved, from early portals such as DMOZ and Yahoo! to the page-rank style search we have today. New tools such as Octopub are emerging that allow people to publish to the web of data.
As the way we publish and search for data evolves, so too will the role of portals.
Embedding sustainability: from design to evaluation
Portals’ sustainability – how they respond and adapt to challenges – is therefore important. Yet most portals were created quickly as part of a politically driven open data initiative, without feasibility studies, business cases, strategy or user research. Many were built simply because governments felt they ought to have one. In short, most were set up without sustainability in mind.
Portals have sought to address this in myriad ways. They have worked closely with user communities to prioritise data publication, developed business cases to win over politicians, made technical updates to ensure that data publication processes are scalable, and developed and automated ways of measuring their progress.
However, most have not yet embedded sustainability into their design and processes in a holistic way. This means building sustainability into how they are governed, how they are financed, their architecture, their operations and the metrics that monitor their progress.
In the report we set out recommendations in each of these areas, based on interviews with portal owners across Europe. By sharing common experiences and best practice, we hope to enable portals to learn from one another.
We will repeat the research at the end of 2017 to test the usefulness of our recommendations and look more closely at certain areas. If you have any comments, or would like to be involved in future research, please get in touch.