Centre for Internet & Society

The roles of intermediaries in open data is insufficiently explored; open data intermediaries are often presented as single and simple linkages between open data supply and use. This synthesis research paper offers a more socially nuanced approach to open data intermediaries using the theoretical framework of Bourdieu’s social model, in particular, his concept of species of capital as informing social interaction... Because no single intermediary necessarily has all the capital available to link effectively to all sources of power in a field, multiple intermediaries with complementary configurations of capital are more likely to connect between power nexuses. This study concludes that consideration needs to be given to the presence of multiple intermediaries in an open data ecosystem, each of whom may possess different forms of capital to enable the use and unlock the potential impact of open data.


This synthesis report is prepared by François van Schalkwyk, Michael Caňares, Sumandro Chattapadhyay, and Alexander Andrason, based on the analysis of a sample of cases from the Exploring the Emerging Impacts of Open Data in Developing Countries (ODDC) research network managed by the World Wide Web Foundation and supported by the International Development Research Centre, Canada. Data on intermediaries were extracted from the ODDC reports according to a working definition of an open data intermediary presented in this paper, and with a focus on how intermediaries link actors in an open data supply chain.


Below is an excerpt from the report. The full report can be accessed from Figshare or from Github.


Implications for Policy


The practical implications of the findings presented here are not insignificant. Given that most of the open data intermediaries in this study were found to rely on donor in order to execute their open data-related social benefit activities, it is perhaps funders who should take heed of the findings presented here when making grants. For example, where a single agency is awarded a funding grant to improve the lives of citizens using open data, questions need to be asked whether the grantee possesses all the types of capital required not only to re-use open data but to connect open data to specific user groups in order to ensure the use and impact of open data. Questions to be asked of grantees could include: “Who are the specific user groups or communities that you expect to use the data, information or product you are making available?”; “Does your organisation have existing links to these user groups or communities?”; and “What types of channels are in place for you to communicate with these user groups or communities?”. Alternatively donor funders may rethink awarding funding to single agencies in favour of funding partnerships or collaborations in which there is a greater spread of types of capital across multiple actors thereby increasing the likelihood of effectively linking the supply and use of open data. Such an approach would be more in line with an ecosystems approach to multiple actors being participants in the data supply and (re)use of open data, and the importance of keystone species and positive feedback loops to ensure a healthy system.


In addition to highlighting the importance of social capital in developing-country innovations systems, Intarakummerd and Chaoroenporn (2013) point to the importance of government initiating and coordinating the activities of both public and private intermediaries. Our findings indicate that should governments adopt such a co-ordinating role in the case of open data intermediaries, they would do well to engage with a broad spectrum of intermediaries, and not simply focus on intermediaries who possess only the technical capital required to interpret and repackage open government data. To be sure, this will be a challenging role for government to assume as conflicting vested interests are likely to surface. Although speculative, it is possible that such a coordinating role is likely to work best when there is a strong pact between all actors involved. And this, in turn, will require a common vision of the value and benefits of open data – something that cannot be taken for granted.


Should there be agreement on the value and benefits of open data, our findings show that most of the intermediaries in our study are NGOs that rely on donor funding. This should raise serious questions about the sustainability of open data initiatives that are civic-minded in conjunction with questions about what incentives other than that of donor funding could ensure the supply and use of open data beyond project funding. Funders and supporters of open data initiatives may have to think not only about the value and benefits or funding projects, but of the sustainability and the impacts of the products produced by the projects they fund.


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