Louise Corti: 'I convince data owners to open it for the public good – I love my job'
With the 2016 Open Data Awards just around the corner, we catch up with Louise Corti, a finalist in the Women in data category, on her perspectives as an 'early adopter' and what it takes to persuade and train people to produce high-quality data for others to innovate with.
The Open Data Awards celebrate innovation and excellence in open data across the world. Hundreds of inspiring people and organisations have been nominated. The awards will be held on 1 November 2016 at the BFI Southbank. Explore all nominees and finalists and follow #OpenDataAwards for updates on the night.
Hi Louise! What do you do, in a nutshell?
Well, I have a senior management position at the UK Data Archive based at the University of Essex. I lead the acquisitions team, which works to acquire data from UK data producers that are of value to social scientists. This is for research, and policy evaluation and development, as well as for teaching and learning.
Much of my work involves evangelism, persuasion and mentoring. I evangelise on the benefits of sharing data, persuade data owners that my organisation can be trusted to share their data safely, and guide and train data creators in how to produce high-quality data and metadata to maximise its utility for others.
The philosophy I promote in my work is making data open where possible and closed where necessary. I work alongside wonderful people who make our whole data-publishing pipeline robust, efficient and creative. I love my job.
What first got you excited about open data?
In about 2000 I had to prepare a new open dataset derived from the British Crime Survey, owned by the Home Office. I created a cut-down, easy-to-use version of the full, more complex survey dataset, designed to be appealing and understandable by A-level students as part of a learning module on statistical literacy. I had to negotiate an Open Government Licence for its redistribution, then in its early days and certainly well before data.gov.uk came onto the scene.
I was an early adopter. Last year I worked with App.Challenge on running a competition to design an app based on certified open data, prepared by us. Through this I was exposed to the world of open innovators and their passion for data. I immediately saw the potential of opening up our data for exploitation by much wider audiences than I had traditionally worked with.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?
My biggest challenge is persuading data owners that their data would benefit from being available to all communities to research and analyse for the public good.
Some researchers, especially in academia, still firmly believe that the data they create belongs to them, and that no one else should have a right to exploit it, especially commercial organisations.
This seems short-sighted. If someone else is able to commoditise your publicly-funded data, it makes sense to work with them to maximise any public benefit. Such uses could offer the data creator a share in any financial benefit, as well as further visibility and kudos beyond one’s own initial publications. I think there is more persuading to do to bring them up to date on the benefits of publishing data, while fully acknowledging them as owners, and ensuring that we have penalties in place for breaches and misuse.
What kind of open data would you like to see more of?
For me, it’s not just about encouraging more open data, it is about encouraging more high-quality open data. We need well-documented and quality-assessed data to enable sensible onward use. Data benefits from having really good machine-readable (and actionable) metadata, and this can be designed right from day one, even when a simple initial spreadsheet is set up. There is a lot of great guidance out there that sets out how to prepare data well and use appropriate standards.
What are you most looking forward to about the ODI Summit and Awards?
Well, I am absolutely delighted and grateful to have been nominated for an award! I am looking forward to hearing about more of the creative work being done by individuals and companies in the open innovation community and via the ODI. It’s always a real buzz and energising to see what brilliant ideas people have, and how quickly they can put them into practice. I'm also excited about meeting the other women who have been nominated and together with them, celebrating all women and girls around the world who love data!