“Where is the private sector open data event?”

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Lots of great academic work from all over the world presented yesterday at the International Open Data Research Symposium organised by the brilliant and generous Open Data Research Network people, with the Web Foundation, IRDC and the main conference, starting today.

The highlight of my day, though, was before the symposium even started. A 50-something man in a nice suit and an American English accent, sitting behind me in the room, tapped on my shoulder and asked kindly – the symposium programme in his hands – if I could help him find the “private sector open data event”.

Having worked a lot with the Open Data Institute for the last two years, I am far from thinking of open data in government and business as worlds that are alien to each other. Actually, one of my projects I am most fond of was possible just by bringing the two together. Hey presto, I confidently took the programme from the man’s hands and started scanning the titles and the researchers’ names looking for the less government-ish sessions…

… and could not find any.

I felt embarrassed. I thought: perhaps it’s academia, overcomplicating the research titles to look more important as they (we) always do. Perhaps it’s just chance… anyway, I wanted to give the guy at least one session name he could engage with. I settled for the “Specific applications” session in the afternoon, although I realised later that I had been cheating: no talk of private sector there either, just a sprinkling of third sector.

The main conference starts today. Perhaps my friend just got the day wrong and will find much more private sector material in today’s presentations and discussion. For me, it’s a reminder of a deep wound that is far from healing: the perceived large divide between the governmental and business open data ecosystems.

More worryingly, I have the feeling that it is becoming a self fulfilling prophecy: as we practitioners fail offering new content and success stories that originate from the two coming together, we may be the first who get used to the idea of seeing the two context separate or – worse – incompatible.

You know what? Next time I meet the guy, I’ll just tell him about my personal work, while the rest of the open data community catches up…

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