Image showing Anja Wyden Guelpa, State Chancellor in Geneva, speaking about transparency in eVoting.

Data is power—insights from Opendata.ch

24.06.16

Data and power share an inherent connection. This year’s Opendata.ch showed various aspects of that connection.

The power of data at Opendata.ch

Data can empower people. Data can disempower people. Data can create tangible value. Opendata.ch/2016 is Switzerland’s most important conference about Open Data. Taking place in Lausanne, this year’s conference highlighted amongst other things one recurring topic. Marcel Salathé, Associate Professor at EPFL, spelled it out loud in his opening talk: “Data is power.”

This is one of the main reasons why data should be open: Open data means equal power distribution. Closed data, on the other hand, is distributed only to a selected few—which means that power is only given to a selected few.

An open data philosophy

Above all, making data open is a question of attitude and culture. It’s not just about opening the data itself, but about how decisions are taken or how society is structured. Openness is not an end, but a means to an end, as Simon Chignard, Data Editor at Etalab, put it in his presentation.

Simon Chignard’s statement that “openness is a cultural battle” (“L’ouverture est une bataille culturelle”) shows that open data is not an easy task. But there is a lot to gain in return. Open data creates transparency. And transparency is a fundamental requirement for trust. We believe what we see, and we trust what we can see and understand. For a democratic government like in Switzerland, such transparency and trust is indispensable, as Anja Wyden Guelpa, State Chancellor in Geneva, pointed out in her keynote about eVoting in Geneva.

Tangible advantages of open data

Open data also has more tangible advantages, such as efficiency. Marco Sieber from Open Data Zurich showed in his talk how once governments open their data, it can lead to better, faster, more diversified and reusable service supply. There are hardly any additional costs needed from the government’s side, yet it leads to interesting, impressive and valuable results. Denis Gursky, founder of Socialboost, too, showed in his pre-recorded talk that open government data enables people and allows them to design useful, socially meaningful services with that data—which are of benefit to all citizens.

Empowerment through open data

In the end, opening data means giving power—and possibilities—to people. Open data is then vital when it helps people make sense of complex issues. It is then vital when it empowers people and serves as a catalyst to solving problems.