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Feng Gao

Open Data Advocate and Open Knowledge's ambassador for China. Researching, Designing and Coding for Change. Available for Freelancing work

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Shanghai, are you ready for a serious open data initiative?

In my previous post, I reported that the Shanghai gov started their open data initiative backed to 2011. Their three-year efforts were on setting up an internal data inventory to understand “what kinds of data shanghai gov has, where those data are, who is responsible for managing a dataset, how frequent a dataset is updated” but also their effort were on engaging 9 departments in openning up some datasets as a pilot project.

On 14th May, the Shanghai gov held a meeting discussing their 2014 plan for open data. The meeting, according to their plan, is quite interesting.

First, the gov claimed that open data is not just for economic growth but also for transparency. As you know, transparency is not Chinese gov’s strongest interest, so this is really big suprise to me as I never expect the gov will talk about this. However, we all know talking about something is always easy but what they will really do is another matter. So let’s see, shall we?

Second, the gov announced that for 2014, the 9 departments involved in pilot project will open up 190 differnt kinds of datasets (you can get the csv version here, but it’s still in Chinese), with a strong focus on Place of Interest data (e.g. location of bank, public park, hostpital etc), transportation data including real-time traffic feeds, and various data on permits and licenses for different kinds of buisness such as company register data.

Third, the 9 departments will finish registering datasets on the internal data inventory by the end of this year and other departments will soon start registering their datasets on the internal inventory.

Forth, the gov claimed that it does not just want to open up government’s data but also open up those data held by organizations and institutes that provides public services such as universities, libraries, and hospitals.

Fifth, the gov plans to improve their data portal to engage users in giving feedbacks. There will be a way in which users can comment and rate each datasets. The site will also improve the way where people can request new datasets.

Frankly speaking, the whole plan looks pretty good and also quite promising. I can already see some existing data-driven applications will soon use those open data to offer better services. Given the recent discussion on engaging private-sector at world bank and OGP, I see this is a good first step to boost the open data driven buisness in Shanghai.

At Open Data China, we are also curisous that how people might use those datasets, no matter for buisness or trasnparency. Therefore, we also started a thread to engage our followers to brainstorm on how they might use those datasets. Responses we received thus far seem to be quite positive. People feel very excited to see such new inititaive in Shanghai and some of them did come up with quite good ideas. Prof. Zheng at Fudan University also organized a brainstorm session during his class and his students came up with a lot of interesting ideas. More details will be shared later when he has time.

But again, every coin has its own two sides. And for this new plan, I still have some concerns. The biggest problem I think is it does not touch any legal perspectives such as whether the gov truly have copyrights on data they collect and produce, and what kinds of license they will use. As I previously wrote on my Chinese blog, Shanghai Data portal dose not state clearly what kinds of rights a user might have, so it is unclear that whether you do have the right to use the datasets on the portal for commercial purpose also it does not explictly grant you the right to derive and re-distrute data. I’m not an expert on open license, but my personal feeling is we need explict words there to guarantee that I do have those rights so I do not need to fear that one day they will suddenly shut down my service or even sue me. There are really a lot of works need to be done and if Shanghai Gov seriously wants to boost economy via releasing data, then they must make all these legal things clear otherwise how people are supposed to use those datasets for business and develop new buisness models?

Another concern I have is the gov’s plan does not discuss how they will engage users. People will not come unless you proactivly engage them. That’s a lesson many countries already shared and I believe it is absolutely true. The Beijing portal already faced the problem and they are struggling with how to get those datasets really be used. The missing of a user engagement strategy is a big problem and I think the Shanghai gov needs to closely work with communities and enterprenuers to think about how they can engage more people in using their datasets.

As the national gov probabaly is also working on an open data plan and will release it in this year, I expect some of problems might be addressed by the national plan and the local plan can be improved accordinaly. After all, open data initiative is never a easy thing and China’s gov, though it has great potential on it, need to better plan for it and prepare for it to cultivate and create the open data ecosystem. Simply making data available is not what we (or at least I) expect.