Open Data in research

July 30, 2018

Coming from outside of academia, I'm often surprised that open data isn't more of a thing.

I'm Martin Howitt, one of the co-founders of The Data Place, a social enterprise based in Plymouth that exists to improve open data ecosystems across the globe. We provide services and products for discovering, publishing and using open data—helping people and places thrive, and bring together infrastructure, data skills, human-centred design and open source development to create our impact.

When we were approached by Dr Pete Downs to help him with the data management and visualisation aspects of some of his work, we half expected the academic world to be way ahead of other sectors: after all, sharing research data is essential to ensuring your work can be replicated, checked and built on. It turns out that, mainly due to people being under pressure to get their results out, open data methods are hardly ever employed in this world and so we're on a mission to change all that!

So what do we mean by "open data". Well, we mean something quite specific: a piece of data or content is open if anyone is free to use, reuse, and redistribute it - subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and/or share-alike. If you've ever used Creative Commons licenses for things then you'll recognise this language; making data open is about being explicit about the terms that other people can use it under, and then making it easily available to find.

In the process, we try to make data more legible so that educated laypersons can look at it and know, broadly speaking, what they are looking at.

This is a big thing in parts of the public sector in the UK: DEFRA, for example, has had an initiative called #OPENDEFRA which has released many thousands of environmental datasets and this is turn has spawned a variety of apps and derivative data products, often made by people with no connections to the original data collections.

So for this project we've built an open data portal - which you can find at - and uploaded some of Dr Downs' raw data onto it, along with some contextual datasets.


We were then able to use this data as a source for some data visualisations. More about those in a further blog post, but for now we'd encourage you to have a browse of the portal and see what data is there, and maybe consider what data you collect as part of your research and whether it could be opened. If you need help or advice on this, just drop us a line on our website, we'd be delighted to assist.


opendata research blip portal

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