Some tips for open data ecosystem mapping

At Open Data Camp last month I pitched to run a session on mapping open data ecosystems. Happily quite a few people were interested in the topic, so we got together to try out the process and discuss the ideas. We ended up running the session according to my outline and a handout I’d prepared to help people.

There’s a nice writeup with a fantastic drawnalism summary on the Open Data Camp blog. I had a lot of good feedback from people afterwards to say that they’d found the process useful.

I’ve explored the idea a bit further with some of the ODI team, which has prompted some useful discussion. It also turns out that the Food Standards Agency are working through a similar exercise at the moment to better understand their value networks.

This blog post is just gather together those links along with a couple more examples and a quick brain dump of some hints and tips for applying the tool.

Some example maps

After the session at Open Data Camp I shared a few example maps I’d created:

That example starts to present some of the information covered in my case study on Discogs.

I also tried doing a map to illustrate aspects of the Energy Sparks project:

Neither of those are fully developed, but hopefully provide useful reference points.

I’ve been using to do those maps as it saves to Google Drive which makes it easier to collaborate.

Some notes

  • The maps don’t have to focus on just the external value, e.g. what happens after data is published. You could map value networks internal to an organisation as well
  • I’ve found that the maps can get very busy, very quickly. My suggestion is to focus on the key value exchanges rather than trying to be completely comprehensive (at least at first)
  • Try to focus on real, rather than potential exchanges of value. So, rather than brainstorm ways that sharing some data might provide useful, as a rule of thumb check whether you can point to some evidence of a tangible or intangible value exchange. For example:
    • Tangible value: Is someone signing up to a service, or is there an documented API or data access route?
    • Intangible value: is there an event, contact point or feedback form which allows this value to actually be shared?
  • “Follow the data”. Start with the data exchanges and then add applications and related services.
  • While one of the goals is to identify the different roles that organisations play in data ecosystems (e.g. “Aggregator”) its often easier to start with the individual organisation and their specific exchanges first, rather than the goal. Organisations may end up playing several roles, and that’s fine. The map will help evidence that
  • Map the current state, not the future. There’s no time aspect to these maps, I’d recommend drawing a different map to show how you hope things might be, rather than how they are.
  • There was a good suggestion to label data exchanges in some way to add a bit more context, e.g. by using thicker lines for key data exchanges, or a marker to indicate open (versus shared or closed data sharing)
  • Don’t forget that for almost all exchanges where a service is being delivered (e.g. an application, hosting arrangement, etc) there will also be an implicit, reciprocal data exchange. As a user of a service I am contributing data back to the service provider in the form of usage statistics, transactional data, etc. Identifying where that data is accruing (but not being shared) is a good way to identify future open data releases
  • A value network is not a process diagram. The value exchanges are between people and organisations, not systems. If you’ve got a named application on the diagram it should only be as the name of tangible value (“provision of application X”) not as a node in the diagram
  • Sometimes you’re better off drawing a process or data flow diagram. If you want to follow how the data gets exchanged between systems, e.g. to understand its provenance or how it is processed, then you may be better of drawing a data flow diagram. I think as practitioners we may need to draw different views of our data ecosystems. Similar to how systems architects have different ways to document software architecture
  • The process of drawing a map is as important as the output itself. From the open data camp workshop and some subsequent discussions, I’ve found that the diagrams quickly generate useful insights and talking points. I’m keen to try the process out in a workshop setting again to explore this further

I’m keen to get more feedback on this. So if you’ve tried out the approach then let me know how it works for you. I’d be really interested to see some more maps!

If you’re not sure how to get started then also let me know how I can help, for example what resources would be useful? This is one of several tools I’m hoping to write-up in my book.

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