Data liberation

In the Caribbean we have a huge problem, what is the problem? The problem is access to data. Data is information and without it we can never begin to answer the questions to the problems we have.

It’s quite hard to determine if the problem of data liberation lies around those that control the data or the lack of interest by those outside of that control wanting it.

Useable data
Now to be fair there are a number of companies and government departments that regularly publish the data that they collect. But the issue is not that they publish the data but rather if the data is useable.

Incomplete or inconsistent data serves no purpose to anyone and no meaning can be derived from it and should just be removed. Duplicates are similar even if it’s correct, it just adds to the outcome of skewed results. And I think the biggest mistake is to allow users to enter their own answers to question fields. At all times, besides for fields like “comments” and “notes” you should always have consistent options for users to choose from, e.g. State your job, options: Doctor, Dentist, Teacher… etc. otherwise you’ll end up with an entire dataset that is totally inconsistent and in the end worthless of any meaning.

Access to data
Another key factor of data liberation would have to be access to the data. A lot of times in my quest for data I have to search, sort and parse into a dataset. And once that’s done I have to check back in with my sources of the data to see if there’s been any updates and somehow add this new data to my set. It would make more sense from a data management point for the creators of the data to produce the data in a way that anyone could access it in a convenient way, such as, via a api or .csv/.json file formats. I’m particularly a fan of the api access as it’s a database that can be continually added to with much hassle and access can always been had really easily.

Reaping the benefits of open data
Data liberation not only allows us to know a lot more about ourselves, but it can also be used to build new innovative businesses from the access to that data. From this also, the government could foster relationships with private and civic groups to build new tools (apps, websites, Crime Mapping… etc.) to help engage their citizens and promote transparency, allowing for a thriving society, one which is well informed and motivated.

In the end I can only hope that in the future the Caribbean will realize that a lot of the solutions to the problems they have are locked up in their data and the way they’ve hidden it away or chosen to delivery data haphazardly or without real conviction to their people. And to this end I feel this is one of the many ways we’ve been left behind as a region.