"Open data" is a term that has gained popularity in the transparency and open government movement around the world, but it is not always clearly defined. Opening up data follows the same principle as Open Government: Treat access to public information as a rule, not an exception. In this guide, "data" refers to information generated by all public agencies in the state of São Paulo that come from administrative activities of government management: contracts, functions, projects, policies, and partnerships with other sectors. In short, all the data that is in the custody of the state government or entities linked to it.
Opening this data means that government information may be freely used, reused, and redistributed by anyone without any restrictions. This requires at the most that the database's source be provided and that this information be redistributed under the same conditions or licenses in which they were originally acquired.
For a data set to be considered "open," it must present at least the three following characteristics:
- Availability and access: The data must be available as a whole and in a way that does not create complicated processes for the interested party to copy it. The best-case scenario is to provide for the data to be downloaded over the Internet. The data also needs to be available in a convenient and modifiable format. .
- Reuse and Redistribution: The data must be provided under terms that permit reuse and redistribution, including combining this data with other databases.
- Universal Participation: Everyone must be able to use, reuse, and redistribute the data. There should be no discrimination against fields of endeavor, persons or groups. For example, “non-commercial” restrictions that would prevent “commercial” use of the data, or restrictions on use for certain purposes (e.g., only for personal research), are not allowed.
These three characteristics are summarized in three "laws" suggested by the open data activist David Eaves:
- If the data cannot be spidered or indexed, it does not exist.
- If the data is not available in open and machine readable format, it cannot engage.
- If a legal framework does not allow it to be repurposed, it does not empower.
There are many reasons to be very clear about the meaning of "open data." Since the term has such a broad meaning, it is necessary to define exactly what characteristics are considered ideal in the scope of this guide, so that the information published by the government can be used by all sectors of society in a compatible manner.
Opening up databases with the characteristics described above is important because it makes interoperability possible; this exists when different actors in society work with different databases together. Building better and better systems and solutions, whether developed in the spheres of government, private, academic, or civil society, depends on the interoperability of databases.
Clarity about what "open data" is also ensures that two or more databases coming from different sources can be combined without major technical obstacles. Among other things, this avoids having government be a large warehouse of "closed" databases that serve only for utilization by individuals and are useless for larger, complex systems that are capable of providing solutions, views, services, or value to citizens or groups in society.