Open & Shut

Harsha Devulapalli: “Welcome to Open & Shut — a new blog dedicated to exploring the opportunities and challenges of working with open data in closed societies around the world. Although we’ll be exploring questions relevant to open data practitioners worldwide, we’re particularly interested in seeing how civil society groups and actors in the Global South are using open data to push for greater government transparency, and tackle daunting social and economic challenges facing their societies….Throughout this series we’ll be profiling and interviewing organisations working with open data worldwide, and providing do-it-yourself data tutorials that will be useful for beginners as well as data experts. …

What do we mean by the terms ‘open data’ and ‘closed societies’?

It’s important to be clear about what we’re dealing with, here. So let’s establish some key terms. When we talk about ‘open data’, we mean data that anyone can access, use and share freely. And when we say ‘closed societies’, we’re referring to states or regions in which the political and social environment is actively hostile to notions of openness and public scrutiny, and which hold principles of freedom of information in low esteem. In closed societies, data is either not published at all by the government, or else is only published in inaccessible formats, is missing data, is hard to find or else is just not digitised at all.

Iran is one such state that we would characterise as a ‘closed society’. At Small Media, we’ve had to confront the challenges of poor data practice, secrecy, and government opaqueness while undertaking work to support freedom of information and freedom of expression in the country. Based on these experiences, we’ve been working to build Iran Open Data — a civil society-led open data portal for Iran, in an effort to make Iranian government data more accessible and easier for researchers, journalists, and civil society actors to work with.

Iran Open Data — an open data portal for Iran, created by Small Media


..Open & Shut will shine a light on the exciting new ways that different groups are using data to question dominant narratives, transform public opinion, and bring about tangible change in closed societies. At the same time, it’ll demonstrate the challenges faced by open data advocates in opening up this valuable data. We intend to get the community talking about the need to build cross-border alliances in order to empower the open data movement, and to exchange knowledge and best practices despite the different needs and circumstances we all face….(More)