Joel Gurin on open data: 'Changing how we speak with governments'

As most consumers can't use data from government sources directly, we need others to set up ‘choice engines’ that turn it into information they can use.

Ahead of his talk at the ODI Summit, we speak with author, director and open data expert Joel Gurin.

Joel is a Senior Adviser at The Governance Lab at NYU, where he directs the Open Data 500. Joel is also the Founder and Editor of OpenDataNow, a news and information hub for open data. Joel begun his career as a science journalist, and has also worked in publishing, charities and government.


Hi Joel. Your varied career has given you insight into lots of different industries. Have you noticed any running themes in how data is used and analysed within them?

We're seeing a positive trend in putting data to practical use. People from all sectors are figuring out how to take it out of the realm of abstract analysis and apply it to real world problems. That's going to bring a lot of rapid progress in healthcare, finance, energy, education and many other areas.

While working for the US Government, you helped pioneer ‘smart disclosure’ – giving consumers useful data to make informed decisions. What were your biggest challenges in this process?

The vast majority of consumers can't use data from government sources directly. So we need third-party intermediaries who can set up ‘choice engines’ that take the data and turn it into actionable information. Fortunately, that's a good business model that a number of new companies are starting to develop.

What will you be talking about at the ODI Summit?

I look forward to sharing what we've learned at The GovLab in our work on the Open Data 500 – our study of companies that use open government data as a key business resource. We're finding that this work can apply to other countries as well, and is also the basis for a new kind of dialogue between government agencies that provide data and the companies and organisations that use it.

Which other sessions are you most looking forward to, and why?

Of course, I'm eager to hear Sir Tim Berners-Lee talk about the last 25 years of the World Wide Web. I'm also interested to hear the panel discussion on future-proofing governments for open data. The panel on open data for social good is also an important one. We have to be sure that we keep the social dimension in mind as we look at the business applications of open data as well.

What direction do you see open data heading in over the next five years, and what most excites you about its future?

We're seeing a lot of new companies starting up that can work with government agencies to make their data easier to find and use. So I think that open data will become much more manageable very quickly, to everybody's benefit. That opens the way to working on making the data as accurate, timely, and useful as it can be.

As more councils, cities and countries open up their data, which sector do you think stands to gain the most, and why?

The best candidate for open data transformation is healthcare. We could soon see a world where data transforms everything from the way people choose their healthcare providers to the way doctors diagnose disease and prescribe treatments. We're heading into an era of personalised medicine, where open data combines with personal data to give each patient the treatment that's going to be most likely to be helpful to them.

Joel will be talking about using open data to generate new business, products and services at the ODI Summit conference at BFI Southbank, London, on Saturday, 4 November. Book your conference ticket here.