Reflecting on The Cost(s) of Geospatial Open Data (Johnson et al, 2017)

This paper examines the rise of geospatial open data, particularly at the federal level. It looks at very concrete, monetary costs, such as resource costs, and staff time costs; it also looks at the less concrete and maybe less obvious, indirect costs of open data, such as when expectations are not met, and the potential for more corporate influence in the government.


In an economics class that I am currently taking, we discussed the seven methodological sins of economic research, and I believe some of these points can transcend disciplines. For instance, one of the sins is reliance on a single metric, such as a price or index. I think it’s important to note that when the authors of this paper were discussing costs, they did not just include monetary costs in their analysis. I believe the addition of the indirect costs is an important component to their argument and that these indirect costs present even more pressing issues than the direct costs do. I think it is very important to acknowledge the far-reaching and even harder-to-solve problems of the effects and influences of citizen engagement, the uneven access to information across regions, the influence of the private sector on government open data services, and the risks of public-private collusion through software and service licensing. 


A critique I have of the paper is that I believe the title to be a bit misleading in its simplicity. The title implies that the paper addresses geospatial open data cost across disciplines, whereas the paper addresses the costs only at the government level, and not any other level (for instance, perhaps looking at OSM or Zooniverse, if crowdsourcing/VGI falls under the same category as open data). The abstract, however, makes it very clear that the paper is only addressing issues caused by government-provided open data.

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