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Home  > What is Open Data?  > The concept


Open data is a philosophy and a practice that requires that certain data are of free access to all, with no technical or legal limitations. In the public sector, having access to data from the administration guarantees transparency, efficiency and equal opportunities, and also creates value. Transparency, because data that come directly from official sources can be consulted and handled; efficiency, because citizens and organisations can create services in a more accurate fashion in collaboration with the administration; and equal opportunities, because access is the same for everyone.

Many governments around the world are promoting projects similar to that of Catalonia for these reasons. For further information see the documentation generated by the W3C Consortium, led by Brit Tim Berners Lee, one of the world’s leading promoters of the movement in favor of opening up public data.

Open data licences and terms of use are subject to laws on the reuse of public sector information, and in some cases may involve intellectual property licences, although the trend is to open data free of conditions so long as they are kept intact and not manipulated, their source is cited and the date the data were last updated is indicated. For more information on this point, please see the section entitled Terms of Use and Licences on this portal.

The European Commission considers that public data must be able to be reused by the general public and enterprises alike, as this not only ensures transparency but can be an engine of development for the information and knowledge society, particularly with regard to the digital content sector. To that end the Government of Catalonia legislated in favour with Law 37/2007 of 16 November on the Reuse of Public Sector Information, amended by law 18/2015, which in turn incorporates Directive 2013/37/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council. Consult the Aporta Project guide for further information on the reuse of data.

What can be done with the data? illustration.
Example of use: Government Office Portal of the Government of Catalonia

Open data makes it possible to consult and construct applications - particularly display software and forms - which use the released information as a source. The administration or other parties (private individuals, organisations and enterprises) can make applications as soon as their access is released.

The types of applications that can be constructed with released data are very diverse and respond to very different goals and purposes. They can range from highly personal uses, e.g., citizens who want to include RSS traffic incident messages on their mobile phone, or data from respiratory disease associations that control pollution indices. The applications can also have purely business purposes, such as the case of automatic updates of information from official services that can be fed into GPS navigators in vehicles.

Further examples of the wealth and variety of applications that can be built from public open data are the interactive maps and graphics used in what is called “database journalism” and in numerous search services, e.g., the gencat facilities search engine cercador d'equipaments de gencat which makes it possible to locate schools, hospitals or sports centres, among other facilities. Headline information included on blogs, webpages or mobile applications through the use of RSS messages (such as those generated by gencat) are yet other applications that can be generated with open data and which are examples of content that is automatically provided by the administration.

How are data released?

In its latest publication guide, W3C recommends releasing useful data in reusable formats. Any format is welcome but the better structured and enriched the data, the easier it will be to reuse them and build applications that can process them automatically. That is why some open data formats and projects are considered less valuable than others. According to the classification proposed by Tim Berners Lee, the most suitable formats are XML-based RDF which can easily move onto the following level called “linked data”, which in turn forms the technical basis for the semantic web, a standard where each datum contains associated information that automatically relates it with other data.

W3C also recommends creating a catalogue with a careful description of each and every data set a government releases, and releasing the catalogue in RDF format. The Government of Catalonia has done just that on this portal, which you can use to not only consult but also download the catalogue with all the open data initiatives within the institution. It also makes a qualitative leap as it releases, for the first time, a significant set of data in formats considered of high reuse quality (RDF format). This first data set released in a four-star format comprises: the dataset of the 26,000 official facilities of Catalonia, the 1,400 procedures handled in the Government’s offices, and a good part of its multimedia archives. Work is also being done to shortly reach the maximum quality level in data format (linked data), considered five stars, as much of the Government’s open data are now well-enough structured to be able to relate them with others.

Updated date: 28.02.2017