Open Oil: 'We look forward the day that $9tr of government procurement can be modelled and analysed'
With the 2016 Open Data Awards just around the corner, we catch up with the team at Open Oil, one of the finalists for the Social Impact award.
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.
What do you do, in a nutshell?
We curate open data of the world's natural resources and use it to provide investment-grade analysis of the major deals and projects that have so much impact lives around the world. So we built Aleph, which has scraped every filing made by an oil or mining company on a major financial market around the world for the last 15 years. We use it to build financial models which show how much taxes should be paid, what public assets are worth, and so on – effectively reverse-engineering the business models of the companies that run the projects.
What first got you excited about open data?
People assume everything about the oil and mining industries is secret, and so it's not possible to find anything out. It's true that there are a lot of secrets, but we have developed the art of using what data there is in the public domain to provide analysis that people normally assume only insiders could do. We send the financial models we do, for example, to both the companies and governments for comment before we publish, and we have never had the major conclusions of any of them disputed. That's exciting!
What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?
The belief that if data is public then it cannot really be valuable. It's a lazy perspective to have. Open data represents a tremendous opportunity to open industries up to scrutiny and enable sustainable management. But many people, including dedicated activists in the field, are too pessimistic about what can be achieved. We are winning the argument, albeit slowly.
What kind of open data would you like to see more of?
Government contracts. We are waiting for all government procurement contracts everywhere in the world to be published. We look forward to a day soon when the $9tr USD of government procurement can be modelled and analysed. Not just oil and gas contracts, but all major public infrastructure: highways, airports, even schools and hospitals. This will increase competitiveness, provide taxpayers with better value for money, and help in the fight against corruption.
What are you most looking forward to about the ODI Summit and Awards?
The chance to meet Sir Tim Berners Lee, who has long been one of our heroes.