We’ve already discussed the many virtues of open data. Now it seems that human rights organisations around the world are taking advantage of open data to inform their work on critical issues, such as this project which focuses on deceased workers in Turkey.

What open data covers

Open data is offered to the public through datasets, which are packages of information, often in PDF form, and pertaining to various social issues. These datasets are collated and distributed by governments, businesses, human rights NGOs, colleges, journalists and activists.

Datasets offer information on a variety of issues, including civil and political rights, immigration statistics, human rights violations, civil conflicts, small arms transfers and more. The information is generally categorized by time periods, countries, economic status, and other identifying factors.

How open data is helping human rights organizations

Open data helps human rights organizations by providing them with facts and statistics for education and political purposes. Through data analysis, human rights NGOs can predict future events and trends in human trafficking, slavery, genocide, human rights abuse and more, as indicated by the Human Rights Data Analysis Group which has been in operation for over 25 years.

Open data can also be used to prove government abuse in the past and the present. Because datasets can be provided by NGOs working within the country, most countries have open data about government abuse whether it’s been released by the government or not. This particular issue has been of interest lately as more countries, such as Bahrain, Turkey, and the Philippines, have been accused of human rights and government abuse.

Open data — analysis of the information

The analysis of open data is critical towards using it for human rights issues. That’s because when done correctly — that is, when trained professionals comb through information and piece together the big picture — the information can be used in war crimes trials, to uncover the truth about human rights abuse, or to inform the general public about how their government is affecting human rights at home.

The Human Rights Data Analysis Group, which is lead by statisticians and researchers, is the most public face of open data in human rights, having presented its findings to not only the US, but also to the United Nations. However, countless human rights organisations and journalists have been helped by this analysis of open data, although few news reports cover where the information was found.

Is open data reliable?

Open data is not without risks; after all, the datasets are compiled by humans. Issues have arisen that show that governments are not always forthcoming with information, can make viewing open data harder by only copying and pasting files into a larger file, or do not enforce open data within its borders.

Even when data is freely shared, it must be combed through to find what’s useful; datasets are often large packets of information that may or may not correlate with the issue it was developed to tackle.

Even when data is freely shared, it must be combed through to find what’s useful; datasets are often large packets of information that may or may not correlate with the issue it was developed to tackle. It can also be difficult to ascertain what data is accurate and what is not, making the process of using open data longer as researchers verify the data.

The issues that confront open data haven’t stopped human rights NGOs from utilizing the datasets. In fact, it has made many organisations, such as the Sunlight Foundation, even more determined to unpack open data and bring it to light as a valuable resource to activists, journalists and society in general. Other organisations, such as HRDAG, has even used open data to go to war crimes court five times, so open data is making a difference.

How to contribute to the open data movement

We’ve discussed how to solve social problems with open data before, but there are ways that you, right now, can use open data to help human rights issues in your country. Join the growing number of people who want open data, and show the world how it can be used for good with the following actions:

  • Blogging and journalism: Open data can be used as research for longform articles about human rights issues in a particular region or country. Anyone can write these articles and submit them to major publications; you could also publish them on your own website. Always link back to your data source and champion the benefits of open data.
  • Write for specific organisations: Write for human rights NGOs. Many are actively looking for writers and researchers on sites like Volunteer Match.
  • Put pressure on your government: Write to your local representative to push for an agenda that lends itself to the opening up of information.
  • Collect your own data and contribute to the knowledge pool: Build your own dataset, using reliable information from credible sources around one specific issue. Working with a team or alone, build the dataset to be unbiased and factual. Then release it on your own site or submit it to an open data project site like DataPortals.

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