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The Open Data Institute is taking its model for catalysing open data research to 13 new cities and regions

The Open Data Institute is taking its model for catalysing open data research to 13 new locations

Barely one year after its founding the Open Data Institute (ODI), a publicly-funded company fostering innovation with publicly licensed data sets, has launched a global network of nodes focusing on the very same. The ODI says the new network will help other cities and regions create valuable insights from their publicly available data sets and foster global collaboration on big data initiatives.

The ODI was founded in London in December 2012 with the aim of incubating startups and researchers fostering innovation through the use of publicly available data sets like those that can be accessed via data.go.uk, a UK government-funded initiative to make over 9,000 data sets collected by public sector organisations available to the general public and research communities.

The newly announced open data network will extend those efforts to 13 new regions and cities, where organisations and joint-ventures between universities, NGOs and the public sector will come together to form “nodes” – research and innovation hubs facilitating research and collaboration on technologies using large publicly licensed data-sets.

“I have been amazed at the energy and enthusiasm of people looking to align around a global network of ODIs,” said Gavin Starks, chief executive officer of the ODI. “The speed at which we have been able to collaborate, the shared thinking about the approach and the scale of the potential, indicate that the ODI is an idea whose time has come,” he said, adding that the ODI has been flooded with requests from big data project stakeholders globally to help facilitate research collaboration among them.

“We have borrowed from the design principles of the web itself to bring people and organisations together, and will use open data both to collaborate with each other, and as the primary output of the network,” Starks said, in a nod to ODI co-founder Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the Internet while at CERN, The European Particle Physics Laboratory in 1989.

The network will include two country-wide trials, with NGOs being established in the US and Canada that will work across public and private sectors, educational institutions and other ODI nodes, building “national centres of excellence.” Eight city and regional nodes will be set up in Chicago, North Carolina, Dubai, Trento, and Paris, with three more in the UK – Manchester, Brighton and Leeds; these nodes will provide training and resources to participating groups and researchers.

Dennis Brink, Co-Founder of ODI Canada said: “Joining the International network of ODI Nodes is a great opportunity for the Canadian Open Data Institute and we are honoured to be a part of this global network. Its ongoing development allows us to gain from the experience that the ODI brings to the open data and governance space through its initiatives. We expect this to have a positive impact on our ability to successfully deliver on initiatives and to connect all Canadians with the open data movement.”

ODI nodes will also be set up in Moscow, Buenos Aires and Gothenburg, though for the time being these three will act to communicate and amplify open data case studies in their respective regions. All thirteen nodes will sign up to an ODI charter, which codifies the organisation’s open source principles.

“The Open Data Institute – the first organisation of its kind – grew out of our belief in the power of open data to foster innovation, drive economic growth and create prosperity,” said Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office and one of the leading proponents of what some are calling the “open data movement.” “The fact that only one year on, cities and countries around the world want to adopt the ODI model, is evidence of how quickly the open data revolution is spreading. The establishment of ODI Nodes in UK cities will help embed an open data culture in communities, and bring the economic benefits of new and innovative data-led businesses that will help the UK compete in the global race.”

A number of unique projects have come out of the Open Data Institute which have the potential to significantly alter the way organisations and businesses are run, and how policies are implemented.

Prescribe Analytics, one of the projects incubated by the ODI takes GP prescription data from the NHS Information Centre which was released under the Open Government Licence. With the volume and cost of prescription items prescribed by GP practice and by month the team were able to determine how much money could have been saved had NHS doctors prescribed generic instead of licensed drugs (about £200m). Another application developed by David Tarrant, a lecturer at the University of Southampton, and a group of researchers from the University working in partnership with Telefonica combines fire service response times to incidents and data relating to mobile phone activity in particular parts of London to demonstrate the effect of a local fire station closure on emergency response times in the vicinity.

Reuben Binns, a researcher at the University of Southampton (unaffiliated with the abovementioned project) said the global network announcement is a win for researchers around the world.

“What the ODI is doing is lowering the barriers to entry. Educational institutions don’t often have access to rich data sets because they are closed or expensive to acquire, and this open data movement is really important for researchers because access is significantly improved,” he said.

“It will also improve global collaboration across these groups,” he added.

Benjamin Sims, an IT strategy advisor with the consulting firm Tech City Labs agrees. He says the move will also put pressure on other governments to move in the same direction as the UK when it comes to open data licensing. Sims, who once collected data for projects commissioned by the UN, knows the value of open data – particularly because much of what he aimed to collect was closed off.

“I think the network, the model will do more than just facilitate collaboration. It will show that the UK is really leading in this space, and that it’s leading in the pursuit to make data more open,” Sims said.

“Hopefully it will also put pressure on other governments to open up their data to people that can innovate with it,” he added.

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