UBC Graduate Research

Environmental Scan of University Open Data Strategies Zhu, Yang (Julia)


The availability of open data has grown considerably, as public organizations responding to external pressure and internal motivation to release administrative data in formats and under conditions that enable reuse. Open data is an international phenomenon that is strongly associated with the open government movement and motivated by the desire for increased transparency and social and economic benefits made possible by data reuse. In the government realm, open data initiatives include the growing 2003 Public Sector Information (PSI) Directive in Europe, the Open Government Partnership established in 2011, and the expanding G8 Open Data Charter developed in 2013. In March 2011, the government of Canada launched its first-generation Open Data Portal and Canada is now a leader in the open data movement, currently chairing an international Open Data Working Group through its involvement in the Open Government Partnerships. Given this context, we became interested in the impact of the open data movement on other, non-governmental public institutions, and specifically in higher education, where open data could be thought to bring the same or similar benefits. As a working group at UBC has begun to investigate the feasibility of establishing an open data initiative, I set out to determine: do university-based open data initiatives exist, what forms do they take, and what challenges do they face? I conducted an environmental scan of open data initiatives and data sharing practices within major Canadian and international universities and present the results in this report. Based on the six case studies presented, the overarching goal of open data movement in higher education seems to focus on making data more easily accessible to members of the campus community and to improve overall decision making. At the same time, while some universities have chosen to shape their open data initiatives towards a more economic direction (targeted to app developers), other universities are more focused on data transparency. Additionally, there appears to be little order or consistency in the data offered. Some portals have data and services; some contain only the data. What is rather surprising is that most appear almost random in terms of the datasets included – this speaks to the challenge of pulling together data from many masters. Some datasets are also not actually “open” in the sense that their PDF format is not machine-readable. As open data is becoming increasingly utilized in governments, it is still a relatively new concept in higher education. Overall, open data initiatives in post-secondary institutions seem to be an area where little systematic work has been done. Some potential reasons for this could be due to the lack of a uniform or systematic policy or license agreement, and ambiguous guidelines on the classification of private or insensitive information. Disclaimer: “UBC SEEDS provides students with the opportunity to share the findings of their studies, as well as their opinions, conclusions and recommendations with the UBC community. The reader should bear in mind that this is a student project/report and is not an official document of UBC. Furthermore readers should bear in mind that these reports may not reflect the current status of activities at UBC. We urge you to contact the research persons mentioned in a report or the SEEDS Coordinator about the current status of the subject matter of a project/report.”

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