Research plan

The UK is a world leader in Open Data (see Open Knowledge Foundation Open Data Index, 2013). Many of the government’s datasets are open and accessible for use and re­use. However, a study in progress at the Oxford Internet Institute shows that, in practice, there is not much use of these datasets, and that current applications that are based on open data are often repetitive, lacking unoriginal and unsustainable applications, lacking coordination (see Viktor Mayer-Shönberger’s forthcoming work). Yet at the same time, in other parts of the world, a new form of innovation is thriving: ‘social hacking’, which brings together citizens and hackers to create applications and programs which can empower and improve everyday life. This mode of innovation, while rooted in civil society, is frequently connected to open government data, as many groups around the world use this data to fuel further innovation.

This multi-stakeholder model ­- with civil society groups, teams of hackers and ordinary citizens utilising datasets opened up by governments ­- is in use in various parts of the world, and provides an opportunity for better understanding how civic innovation powered by open government data can propel innovation. Thus, in this project we aim to explore and explain how this process of innovation occurs, seeking to understand patterns and draw conclusions which can help to promote similar open data innovation in Britain and elsewhere. We believe that by looking at models from different places we can learn new methodologies and cultures. Facilitating the exchange of this knowledge from other parts of the world will improve open data innovation and the positive social change that flows from it.

As part of our research, we will examine organisations around the world which are considered as ‘hubs’, defined as an entity that supports and nurtures new technological ideas for programs or software applications. We will conduct analysis of hubs in different countries which represent different configurations of stakeholders – including contexts in which government is taking the lead, citizens are taking the lead, and where there is greater cooperation between the two. To do this, we will conduct semi­structured interviews (on a virtual and in­person basis) with reflexive questions about whether and how open data facilitates innovation; ground-level observation of how these hubs utilise open data in a more practical sense; and, where possible, focus groups with bringing together interviewees for further discussion. The primary focus of this qualitative research will be to address core questions about the conditions within which different uses of open data innovation has taken hold, and the extent to which these activities have been successful. As a result, we also hope to generate a set of more generalizable recommendations for those societies where, as earlier research has shown, open data is not fully, sustainably utilised for innovation.



  • Funding: this project recently received funding from not-for-profit innovation supporters Nesta, as part of their Bright Ideas research funding call.
  • Timeframe: the project began in December 2014 and is expected to run until November 2015.
  • Personnel:
    • Principal Investigator: Mor Rubenstein (Open Knowledge Foundation)
    • Co-investigator: Josh Cowls (Oxford Internet Institute)
    • Co-investigator: Corinne Cath (Oxford Internet Institute)

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