Library Element Book and Thesis

Open Data and the Knowledge Society

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Uploaded by RRI Tools on 04 April 2018

Open Data and the Knowledge Society. Bridgette Wessels, Rachel L. Finn, Kush Wadhwa and Thordis Sveinsdottir with Lorenzo Bigagli, Stefano Nativi and Merel Noorman. Amsterdam University Press. 2017.

The idea of a knowledge society has been advanced over the last two decades, but the transition to such a society has not yet been realised in reality. Discussions around a knowledge society have largely focused on a knowledge economy and information society, rather than a mobilisation to a knowledge society. These debates have, however, taken place prior to the rise of open data and big data and the ensuing development of an open data movement. This book considers the role of the open data movement in fostering transformation to a knowledge society. The characteristics of the open data movement include the strong conviction of the value of open data for society, attention to the institutional aspects of making data open in an inclusive way and a practical focus on the technological infrastructure that is key to enabling a knowledge society. At the heart of any mobilisation is an emerging open data ecosystem and new ways of producing and using data – whether ‘born digital’ data, digitised data or big data – and how that data, when made openly available, can be used in a well-informed and beneficial way by societal actors.


The book examines how the idea of open data has been taken up by civil society actors and the policymaking community. It considers whether these actors’ activities constitute a social movement that is seeking to mobilise open data and, significantly, whether that work is fostering a transition from an information society based on a knowledge economy into a knowledge society. In order to assess this broad question, it is necessary to explore some key areas of work that are needed to facilitate open data. These include changing institutional frameworks around data, generating data formats that can be made open, generating technical infrastructure and governance models, and addressing research practices and legal and ethical concerns in making data open. To mobilise each of these areas, change is required in the way that each works, along with the creation of new processes and practices. Further, and beyond change in each area, each aspect of change has to interact and link with the other, so that an holistic open data environment is developed. Even though these aspects are important in the mobilisation of open data, social participation in the mobilisation of knowledge society is also needed for such a transformation to occur. Considering participation in the transformation to a knowledge society and participation in a knowledge society raises questions about the position of science in society and the way in which citizens, businesses and civil society actors can participate by using open data. Only then, when the aspects of an open data environment come together and societal actors can use open data in a socially-defined way, can we say that there is a transformation to a knowledge society.

To assess the role of open data in society and in any transformations to a knowledge society, it is necessary to define what the information society, knowledge economy and knowledge society. In this book, we use information society to refer to societies in which information is a central feature in production, innovation and consumption, and which is organised via digital networks. This type of society often has a strong service sector and its economy is driven by knowledge garnered from flows of information. A knowledge economy is the economic structure of an information society, because the economy is driven by knowledge that is created from information. Further, this economy is characterised by rapid and continuous innovation, and is global in scope. It draws on an educated workforce within commercial and university research centres that specialise in handling data and information to remain globally competitive in a dynamic and fast-paced global economy. The idea of an information society and its attendant knowledge economy is based on a model where information is not an open commodity and, hence, innovation and growth are managed through private investment and outsourced university spin-outs. This differs from the notion of a knowledge society, although there is debate about the precise definition of this. In general terms, a knowledge society distinguishes itself from an information society and knowledge economy because it sees information and knowledge as open to all. Its central value is openness, which means that data, information and knowledge are seen as a ‘commons’ or shared asset in society. This has the potential to allow any member of society to use data to engage and participate in economic, social, political and cultural projects. Thus, a transformation to a knowledge society is radical in that it seeks to foster open social relations amongst people.

The main argument of this book is that the combination of a proliferation of data and the open data movement are significant features in the possibility of generating and mobilising a knowledge society. A key aspect of mobilising data within a knowledge society framework is the actions of a network of actors who together generate an open data movement, which also interacts with a range of public and private institutions and high levels of digital and digitised data. One factor in the mobilisation of knowledge society is how data can be made openly available and then utilised within wider society. It is envisaged that open data has the potential to foster economic growth and social well-being. However, for this potential to be realised, the data will have to be of high quality and able to be reused and shared across society. The book focuses on how the open data movement is interacting with three features that are shaping a new data environment: (1) the emergent characteristics of data; (2) a new socio-technical data ecosystem; and (3) a new configuration of institutions that are shaping and mobilising data across a data ecosystem and wider society, along with the development of interpretive communities.

The conclusions of and information within this book are based largely on the empirical work conducted within a European Commission funded project called Policy Recommendations on Open Access to Research Data in Europe (RECODE). The primary objective of RECODE was to reduce fragmentation within the open access to research data ecosystem by providing evidencebased and overarching policy recommendations based on good practice. In order to achieve this, RECODE was based around four grand challenges and five disciplinary case studies. The grand challenges included an in-depth, empirical investigation of (1) stakeholder values and inter-relationships; (2) technological barriers; (3) legal and ethical issues; and (4) institutional and policy issues.

The five case studies were comprised of:

  1. - Particle physics and particle astrophysics 
  2. - Health and clinical research 
  3. - Bioengineering 
  4. - Environmental sciences 
  5. - Archaeology 
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