How to open your data in six easy steps

Originally published on the Open Data Institute blog. Original URL:

1. Scope out the job at hand

Before taking the plunge and jumping straight into publishing, there are a few things to think through first. Take time to consider what data you’re going to release, what it contains and what the business case is for releasing it in the first place.

Consider what licence you’re going to put on the data for others to use. There’s a selection to choose from, depending on how you want others to use it, see our guidance here.

Here are some other key things to consider at this stage:

  • Where will it be published?
  • Will I need documentation around it?
  • What level of support is needed?
  • How frequently will I release the data?

2. Get prepared

Your data is only really useful to others if it’s well structured and has clear metadata (or a data description) to give it context and explain what it’s about and where it comes from.

Start your prep with a technical review using sample data, and identify suitable formats for release and the level of detail and metadata required. Also consider whether it’ll be most useful to the user as an API or a download. Data can be more useful when linked to other datasets, so keep an eye out for opportunities.

Consider your capabilities in-house and whether you need any training in order to release the data, whether technical or around certification. Some ODI courses can help with this.

Finally, think about what metadata you’re going to add to your data to describe what it is or how to use it.

3. Test your data

Before you release your data, you might want think about doing a preview with some of your potential users to get some detailed feedback. This isn’t necessarily required for smaller datasets, but for larger releases this user-testing can be really useful.

Don’t forget to get an Open Data Certificate to verify that your data is being published properly.

4. Release your data

Now for the exciting bit: releasing your data, the metadata and the documentation to go with it.

The key thing here is to release your data where your users will be. Otherwise, what’s the point? Where you should release it depends on who you are, but in general you should publish it on your own website, ensuring it’s also listed on relevant portals. For example, public sector organisations should add their data to Some sectors have their own portals – in science it’s the norm to publish in an institutional repository or a scientific data repository.

Basically, do your research into how your community shares data, and make sure it’s located in a place you have control over or where you’re confident the data can be consistently available.

When applying the Open Data Certificate, we’ll ask for evidence that the dataset is being listed in one or more portals to ensure it’s accessible.

5. Get engagement and promotion

It’s easy to relax after spending so much time and effort in preparing and releasing your dataset, but don’t just ‘fire and forget’. Make sure you have follow-up activities to let people know the data exists and be responsive to questions they might have. You can engage people in multiple ways (depending on your target audience), for example through blogs or social media. Encourage users to tell you how they’re using the data, so you can promote success stories around it too.

6. Reflect and improve

Now your dataset it out there in the big wide world, take some time to reflect on it. Listen to feedback, and decide what changes you could make or what you’d do differently next time.

If you want to measure your improvement, consider taking a maturity assessment using our Open Data Pathway tool.