How PDF can help Government Open Data policies

by Cris Paden

posted on 04-20-2017

Posted by John Jolliffe, Adobe European Government Affairs

In recent years, policies requiring governments to make available to the public some of the data that they control – so-called “Open Data” policies – have sprung up across the globe. It’s a welcome trend, driven in part by those who believe that access to data will hold governments more accountable for their activities, and in part by the belief that tapping into the ingenuity of developers and other businesses outside the public sector will help drive economic growth.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of that public sector data is stored in PDF documents. They are easy to produce and viewers are readily available on a wide variety of platforms. But issues with some of the PDF-generation tools currently available on the market, and a lack of best practice around open data publishing processes, means it can sometimes be difficult to access and reuse the data contained in some PDF documents.

And so, even though Adobe no longer owns or controls the PDF format (it became an open standard maintained by ISO in 2008), earlier in 2017 we kicked off a project with the Open Data Institute in the UK to understand how PDFs were being used with data, and to document best practices for storing data so that it can be easily accessed again.

ODI have just blogged about their work, and it makes interesting reading. It’s clear that there are scenarios – such as Urban Planning or scientific publishing – where it is, and always will be, important to make data available in both a human-readable and a machine-readable format. When used properly, PDF can help with the presentational aspect and still ensure that the data is reusable by machines.

ODI has also established a PDF Open Data Community Group in the W3C to provide a new forum for exchanging ideas on the use of PDF for open data. We hope that the methods they discover can have broad applicability across the world. It’s free to join, and anyone who’s interested can sign up. Join the discussion!

We think that this project will offer an important boost to the Open Data community, useful guidance to data publishers, and provide timely support to open data policies worldwide. The right data infrastructure can help drive growth and innovation everywhere, and PDF clearly has a role to play.

Topics: Data & Privacy