Opening the door to data


The UK Data Service’s Data Access Policy locates its approach to open data in a venerable and long-established continuum of protecting the most sensitive social science data for research and supporting data owners to make their data available as widely as possible in ways which assure the highest standards of access management. Lucy Bell and Louise Corti of the UK Data Service give an update on the latest developments with open data at the Service. So much of our exciting data are now open, with more to follow.

A range of open social science data is available from the UK Data Service – and the number of open data collections we hold is growing. As of today, we have 57 open collections, including international data, Government and large-scale survey series, large-scale qualitative collections and Census data. You can find all our open data via a quick browse of Discover.

What defines open data?

The Open Knowledge Foundation’s Open Government Data Working Group definition of open data sets out ten principles, covering access, redistribution, reuse, technological restrictions, attribution, integrity, discrimination and licensing. These can be problematic for social science data, most of which are classed as ‘personal’ – they almost always refer to real people. Issues of consent and anonymisation play a part at every stage of the data journey, considering the rights of the data subjects very carefully. Rather than prevent any access to these types of data, it may be better to see access as a continuum, along which data collections may be moved to make them more open.

UK Data Service’s Data Access Policy

A spectrum of data access has been formalised by the UK Data Service in its Data Access Policy:

• Open: freely available with no need for registration or authentication
• Safeguarded: requires the agreement to, at minimum, a standard End User Licence (EUL) and also, sometimes, additional licences or conditions
• Controlled: requires approved or accredited researcher training and usage approval.

The Service has recently been opening data collections on this spectrum where at all possible. Some data can be made fully open, while others have had, via re-negotiation with the data owners, additional, restrictive conditions of access removed.

Some data collections are available under the Open Government Licence or via Creative Commons (often CC 4.0 BY-NC-SA), but other open data licences are also supported (such as Open Data Commons). We are also looking at ‘certifying’ open data under the Open Data Institute, especially those data that will be part of our Innovation project, ‘App Challenge’ that will take place in summer 2015.

Show me the data!

A prominent example of open data available from the UK Data Service is the Census. The Service provides all users with open access to 2001 (England and Wales) and 2011 (UK) Census aggregate statistics under the Open Government Licence, as well as to the UK Data Service back catalogue of aggregate data from the 1971, 1981, 1991 and 2001 Censuses. Many of the boundary data, available via Census Geography, are also open, as are some of the flow data.

ReShare, the UK Data Service’s online self-deposit data repository, for the archiving and sharing of research data, offers access to both open and safeguarded data collections for research and learning. These are typically data arising out of ESRC research awards, the topics of which are spread widely across disciplines and cover quantitative and qualitative data types.

Another important suite of data collections which have been released as fully open data appears in the Service’s QualiBank and comprises a range of in depth interviews and textual documents of interest to qualitative researchers.

As more and more of our data collections are (where appropriate) offered under open data licences, we’ll promote these widely and engage more people and organisations with them.

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