Open Data 101


(Michael Lenczner) #1

Before we dive into some of the specific opportunities presented by data in the social sector, we wanted to give a quick introduction to open data—since we’ll be talking about this topic frequently here.

What is open data?
The practice of making data openly available is fairly recent—connected to the rise of internet and digital practices in the last decade. For data to be considered open, it must be:

  • Freely available: the data must be available online at no cost to all members of the public
  • Machine readable: the data must be stored in a file format that can be easily processed by a machine - such as an excel spreadsheet or .csv file—not as a clunky table within a PDF or as printed pieces of paper.
  • Openly licensed: on top of being freely available to the public, the data must carry a license that allows it to be free and legally re-used, re-distributed, and built upon - including for commercial use

Data can be made open across many contexts, and by many actors, including governments, scientific researchers, grantmakers, and more. Across all these domains, open data brings many exciting opportunities, from increasing transparency and accountability, to promoting innovation, to increasing community engagement.

Some examples of open datasets in the Canadian non-profit context include the 2018 Federal Budget plan, available on Canada’s Open Government portal, this Ontario dataset on unemployment and immigration status, or Ontario Trillium Foundation’s past grants data, dating back to 1999!

Of course, not all data can be made openly available, for reasons related to privacy and security. For example, any sort of person-level data that could be traced back to individuals should never be made open. We’ll also be talking about some alternatives to open data that can still be leveraged by the nonprofit sector in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.

Interested in learning and exploring more?
Here are some links you can visit to learn more about open data, and explore datasets that are relevant to our provincial and Canadian context:


How can open data be useful to nonprofits? Three examples