Unequal access


(this page is part of my 2011 report on “Open Data: Emerging trends, issues and best practices”. Please follow that link to reach the Introduction and Table of Content, but don’t forget to also check the notes for readers! of the initial report of the same project, “Open Data, Open Society”)

Even ignoring crime mapping, in some worst case scenarios, data openness may be not only hindered by social divisions, but also create or enhance them. If citizens can’t find and recognize real, relevant meaning and practical value in data, as well as way to use them to make change happen, there won’t be any widespread, long lasting benefit from openness. How can we guarantee, instead, that such meaning and value will be evident and usable? What are the ingredients for success here?

Enhancing access to PSI it’s harder than it may seem because it isn’t just a matter of physical infrastructure. It is necessary that those who access Open Data are in a position to actually understand them and use them in their own interest.

This is far from granted also because, sometimes, the citizens who would benefit the most from certain data are just those, already poor, marginalized and/or without the right education, who have the least chances to actually discover and be able to use them. This is what G. Frydman was speaking about when, in September 2010, he wrote about the great divide caused by Open Health Data:

`[in the USA]` _"statistically speaking, chronic disease is associated with being older, African American, less educated, and living in a lower-income household. By contrast, Internet use is statistically associated with being younger, white, college-educated, and living in a higher-income household. Thus, it is not surprising that the chronically ill report lower rates of Internet access._

Starting from this, and commenting a study of the performances, with respect to coronary artery bypass grafting, of several medical centers, Frydman expressed his concern that:

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_the empowered will have access to `[this data]` and will act upon it, while many of the people suffering from chronic diseases (the same population that would benefit most from access to this information) won't. Over time it is therefore probable that the current centers of excellence will treat an ever growing number of empowered while the centers that currently experience high mortality rates will get worse and worse result, simply because they will treat an ever growing number of digital outliers who haven't the possibility to obtain health data and apply filters._
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Since one of the topics of this project is the economic value of Open Data, it is necessary to add a somewhat obvious observation to Frydman’s concerns (regardless of their probability). Even if it is difficult now to make accurate estimates, such negative developmets would surely impact also the costs of health services and insurances, not to mention healthcare-related jobs, both in the communities hosting centers of excellence and in those with the worst ones.

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