Open data’s unmet promise and its impact on Scotland’s local democracy

Written by Dan Klein, Global Chief of Data & AI at Zühlke

Over the last 10 years, the discussion on open data has gained significant traction in the UK. Open data was championed as the key to unlocking transparency, driving efficiencies, and delivering real-world outcomes. However, the issue of open data’s usability is often overlooked. After all, merely making digital information available doesn’t guarantee its practicality or accessibility. This reality was highlighted by the obstacles encountered by my team at Zühlke during our recent investigation into Scotland’s transport network

After diving into the seemingly ‘open’ datasets across the Scottish transport network, what we found did not embody ‘openness’ at all. Outdated datasets, unstructured information, and missing data were all major obstacles to carrying out effective analysis and problem-solving.

But don’t assume this is a technical problem. These challenges have real-world consequences that impact people’s everyday experiences. 

A notable example is the impact on public transport journeys, particularly to and from rural Scotland, where the lack of connectivity between transport providers leads to significant waiting times.

The challenges we encountered during our research extend beyond technical difficulties– they have a direct impact on democracy at the grassroots level.

Imagine a scenario where community activists want to improve local transport links, advocating for changes in bus/ferry/train schedules and enhanced connectivity between various modes of transportation. How can they substantiate their arguments if the relevant data is inaccessible or unusable?

In the context of Scotland, the consequences of this data usability gap become even more significant. Long waiting times between connections, as we’ve illustrated through our examination of transport schedules, compound the challenges faced by locals. Not only do they directly suffer from poor scheduling, but they are also unable to do anything about it. So, this is not merely a matter of convenience; it’s about fostering a space where citizens can actively participate in discussions that impact their daily lives.

In Scotland, the focus must shift towards making data usable, ensuring that it empowers local communities rather than hindering their efforts. By doing so, we will lay the foundation for a more transparent and accountable democracy, where citizens have access to the information necessary to actively participate in decisions affecting their daily lives.

Let’s move beyond the general rhetoric of open data and focus on making it truly accessible and usable for the citizens it aims to serve. By connecting the dots between open data challenges and their real-world implications, we pave the way for a future where local democracy thrives, powered by transparent, accessible, and usable data.

Originally posted here

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