Responsible open data publication
While developing an open data policy, the potential undesired side-effects of publishing data must be considered. In relation to agriculture, a number of concerns have been described in the literature:
- Data release can increase the inequality between different groups if one group (generally the more resourceful group) has better access to the data than other groups. In particular, smallholder farmers or indigenous people face barriers of insufficient data skills, language and literacy when working with data. Capacity building programmes or targeted applications may help to over this problem.
- Datasets need to be maintained and updated after their release. If this maintenance does not occur, data may become outdated leading to worse decision making rather than improved decision making by the data users. Government agencies need to manage their datasets with a transparent, organized process for data gathering, security, quality control and release. To effectively carry out these tasks, responsibilities need to be clear and staff need to be well trained. A data provider can use the ODI’s Open Data Certificates to indicate the level of sustainability and support for the dataset and areas where this can be improved.
- Data ownership needs to be clear and managed. Internationally (and also nationally) there is limited legislation on data rights. Often the formal and legal ownership of data lies with those who collected and organised the data. However publishing data is not always in the interest of others who have informal or ethical rights on the data, e.g. the people that actually provided the data, that need to use the data, or who the data is about. Data may contain Personal Identifiable Information (PII), information about vulnerable people, or indigenous knowledge which might be used by others without sharing the benefits. When publishing data, these formal rights and ethical considerations should also be considered. When a government or agency is working with third parties for collecting or processing data, it is important to arrange ownership and data rights in advance. In specific cases, ownership rights are arranged by law (e.g. copyright, database rights, trade secrets, patents or plant breeders’ rights).
The proactive recognition of the inequalities at play is important when designing an open data infrastructure for agriculture. Possible inequalities are strongly context specific and vary from place to place between, but also within, countries. Governments can prevent these imbalances by including a support programme for smallholder farmers and other vulnerable groups to increase awareness and communication. In some cases, sensitivities may be solved by technical means: through anonymization, aggregation of data, or by making the data available through interactive visualization tools working on the raw data but not providing direct access to it, such as the agrimatie.nl portal (see Government in Action 7).