Data portals are platforms that have enabled rapid growth of open data practice over the last decade. But they have become a barrier and a bottleneck, requiring a radical rethink. During this project we developed a set of insights, roles and proto-patterns that re-imagine portals as connected services, rather than technology products; proposing new approaches to bridge gaps in data discovery, quality and engagement, if data is to provide value for a wider audience.
We have found that, in too many cases, journeys to discover and use data end in failure. Data goes undiscovered; datasets discovered are unusable; and opportunities for connection, learning and conversation are missed.
Many open data and data sharing projects have been relying on technical models, portals and practices that are creating a pinch point, rather than being enablers. Without action, there is a risk that portals will continue to decay, but crowding out other activities that could improve data accessibility and use and better realise the value of data.
While there are undoubtedly some technical fixes that can be applied to existing platforms, reframing data engagement as engagement with policy and organisational systems through data; and employing social, political and organisational tools and practices offer new ways to bridge disparities of domain knowledge and power and respond to the variety of user needs.
Despite widespread acknowledgment that there are problems with data portals, there isn’t a consensus on the way forward. This project looked at the future of data portals and uncovered some new ideas and directions for further work. Focus on services for data access and participation Instead of investing in technology, invest in people and processes. Proto-patterns and service standards offer starting points for future design work or pilots.
Focus on tools for better data stewardship Data needs to live closer to where it is talked about in context, and closer to the people who care about it. Tools can guide data stewards to publish data designed around user needs.
Experiment with new roles Consider adding new elements to existing roles, or recruiting for new posts as alternative ways in which (open) data initiatives can overcome barriers to engagement.
Continue the conversation We’d like to share these ideas, test and iterate them. We’re interested in working with current portal managers and existing data service providers to pilot new service touchpoints, interfaces and roles to explore new dimensions of generating social value from data.