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How can open data help us make better decisions?

Having access to a open data is an important step, but it's only the beginning of the journey. The lure of even more open data is attractive, but knowing how to get improved insights that are actionable is something else, and in most cases out of the reach of those without either the talent or funds.

"The UK is absolutely at the vanguard of the global open data movement, and NGOs have a great sense that this is something they want to play a part in.

Although open data may in part be a solution for the 'fear of failure' problem, it would seem that this is more a solution looking for a problem. The interpretation of the data is still a key component in the process and this needs to be done by those with sector or industry expertise and with data they can interpret.

Solving the fear of failure problem is one of the main arguments for adopting an open data policy in any sector or industry, and the 'fail fast' approach has been used by big data businesses for decades.

The quality of the decision-made is the outcome of many steps. Giving the permission to fail is one thing, but it would be less of an issue if it was easier to minimise the risk of failure in the first place. Making collaborative decisions based on enriched data sets, from linked, open and internal data sets is currently an expensive process, and with (real) time being of the essence, a culture that can take the view of mistakes as 'progressive', is a culture that will minimise the fear and get to better decisions quicker.

"We're in a new era of open data where we need permission to fail, we need to try to open up the whole conversation to allow everybody to see what we're doing, to learn from our mistakes," said Gavin Starks, CEO of the ODI.

Clearly there is a need to provide support for those who need to take decisions based on complex data, especially for those who lack data analysis experience on such a level, but is it realistic to expect a quick turnaround? Mining open big data is one thing, linking it to other data sets adds value, visualising it provides new views, but getting to an actionable decision stage requires collaborative skills that not every culture has yet.

Open data can often take the form of complex databases that need to be interrogated by a data specialist, and many charities simply do not have these technical resources sitting untapped. OKFN is foremost among a number of organisations looking to bridge this gap by training members of the public in data mining and analysis techniques.

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Image source: Jonathan Gray
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How do better decisions get made?

Insight: "Put simply, the outcome of a leader’s choices and decisions can, and usually will, make or break them. The fact of the matter is that senior executives who rise to the C-suite do so largely based upon their ability to consistently make sound decisions. What most fail to realize is while it may take years of solid decision making to reach the boardroom, it often times only takes one bad decision to fall from the ivory tower. As much as you may wish it wasn’t so, when it comes to being a leader you’re really only as good as your last decision."

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