December 28, 2015 Natalia Carfi

A guest post from Natalia Carfi, BA in political sciences, former Legislative Modernization Director for Buenos Aires City Legislature, Open Government Coordinator for Secretary General of the Presidency of Chile, currently working for the Buenos Aires City Lab.

As one of the Stewards developing and promoting the Open Data Charter, I had the opportunity to join the Smart City World Congress that took place in November in Barcelona. This is the world’s biggest annual event about “smart cities,” gathering around 14,000 people over three days.

The “smart cities” world and the open government/open data world are not yet having the most coordinated conversations. The different movements are based on different preconceptions, so it was interesting to wonder who would attend our workshop on the Uses of Open Data and the Charter, and what the commonalities and differences between the two worlds would be.

As background, the initial draft of the Charter was introduced at a workshop prior to the 2015 International Open Data Conference in Ottawa. The Charter Lead Stewards team—which includes the Mexican and Canadian governments, the Omidyar Network, the Web Foundation and IDRC—invited other institutions into the process and that’s how I got involved.

I joined the conversation certain that the Charter could help spark closer interaction between the different conversations about open data standards and regulations, and my expectations were surpassed. As part of the Stewards group we participated in drafting of the final text of the Charter, and I was pleased to see that the discussions on subnational and local government grow as the weeks went by.

Eventually a Charter Working Group was created to promote the adoption by subnational governments and to connect relevant initiatives from around the world. Last Friday, December 11th, we had the Working Group’s first virtual meeting, to discuss the first draft of Terms of Reference for subnational work on the Charter.

Meanwhile, we are also working to get out the word about the Charter itself. It was as part of that effort that I was invited to the Smart City conference in Barcelona. During that Workshop, co-presented with Arturo Muente of the World Bank, I was able to experience the already known fact that although technology plays a big role in Open Government and in Smart Cities, the perspective is quite different if you are discussing an Open Government initiative than if you are developing a city strategy.

Unlike many national-level data strategies, the creation of a smart city plan seems to have at its core the handling of data—open or not—not necessarily the opening up (i.e., the disclosure) of data. Our workshop was filled with many people working on local level projects who hadn´t heard much about Open Data but still knew a lot about new data technologies. When given the chance to think about a local problem they might solve using open data, however, most of the groups engaged in meaningful discussions and came up with great ideas. A lot of them then asked to learn more about the Charter and how they could get their organizations and governments involved.

My impression is that there a lot must still be done if we want to join up the conversations on open government and smart cities. And both “worlds” could make advances if there was better collaboration. Smart cities initiatives, for instance, seem to have a more developed relationship with the private sector, something we often lack in the open government space. Meanwhile civil society organizations were nowhere to be found in Barcelona, denying everyone involved a great opportunity for collaboration between the different actors in the urban sphere.

Smart Cities projects also seem to do stronger work developing platforms than they do ensuring their data (or their code) is open. It would be great if we in the open government world could bring that openness to that amazing city-level work, while learning from our counterparts in the Smart Cities how to build and iterate as fast as they do.

The action plan for the Charter sub-national Working Group includes a first in-person meeting in fall 2016, to be held as pre-event of IODC 2016. We are especially pleased because the city of Madrid is hosting the 2016 conference along with the Spanish government, so the Subnational governments will have a huge place in the agenda. Over the next few months, we will be planning the rest of our 2016 activities and aligning them with the IODC Roadmap. We continue to reach out to get more subnational governments involved and we look forward to working with the IODC community to foster stronger connections between national, local and municipal programs.

December 4, 2015 Barbara Chiara-Ubaldi

Guest post from Barbara Chiara-Ubaldi

Barbara Chiara-Ubaldi leads the work on Digital Government and Open Data at the OECD. The projects aim to help governments worldwide make the most of new technologies and data to foster more innovative administrations and deliver more inclusive results. Prior to joining the OECD, Barbara worked for the UN as Programme Officer responsible for ICT for Development. Graduated in Political Science, she holds a Master of Science in Public Administration and Development Studies from North Eastern University in Boston, where she was a Fulbright Scholar in 2000-2001.

The International Open Data Charter offers a comprehensive path toward making open data a global resource or, as Sir Tim Berners-Lee put it, the Charter is a roadmap to “accelerate progress by placing actionable data in the hands of people”. Governments, multilateral organizations, civil society, and the private sector have all collaborated in the Charter’s development.

Can open data help your government provide better health or education services to you, your friends and family? Can open data help you locate the closest pharmacy, spot the best performing hospital, or see how much your government spends in healthcare? Is it true that the app I use to find the easiest route to work was developed using open data? Increasingly, the answer to questions like these is, Yes, it is true!

By opening up data they collect or produce, governments are not only helping businesses offering us new products and services, they are also empowering their own offices to better target public outcomes and deliver improved security, or water quality, or employment opportunities.

We read about the potential impact, value, benefits, and gains of open data. But what are we really expecting from our governments? What data would we like them to release? And for those of us who are not “geeks” and cannot play with the figures, do we know yet how data could change our lives or make them easier?

If the ultimate benefits come from data re-use, it’s important that data users and consumers are clear in what we ask our governments: Is data practical? Is the quality good? Is it easy to understand? What actions do we expect from our governments? What impact? These questions can help shape a government’s plans to ensure that data is comparable and interoperable, and to involve civil society, social entrepreneurs, creative individuals, and businesses in value creation, for instance through events such as hackathons.

For every expected benefit of open data—from improved governance and citizen engagement to opportunities for inclusive development and innovation—we need to know what we are measuring and how we are measuring to be sure to track the impact.

In a rich and intense discussion during the last OGP Summit in Mexico City, many of you spoke up to express your views on what and how open data impact should be measured. Ideas included increased involvement of civil society and service providers in measurement, working with app developers and “going local” at the community level, as well as strengthening governments’ capacity to focus on a specific objectives and monitoring impacts on policy making. Though the discussion was short, it was fruitful and productive.

This conversation needs to continue and it needs to be bolstered by concrete ideas and proposals. As we map the road to impact measurement that will bring us to IODC 2016 in Madrid, Spain, we hope we can count on you to help us address these questions: What would we like governments to measure? What actions do we expect our governments to take on open data? And who should be involved in the measurement?

The OECD, the Open Knowledge Foundation and the Web Foundation have co-ordinated the respective work related to the measurement of open data. Following up on the workshops at IODC 2015 in Ottawa and at the OGP summit in Mexico, our intention is to organise a third Workshop of this kind at IODC 2016 in Madrid on 6-7 October. Your inputs will contribute to shaping the agenda of that Workshop, and help us to further develop the international effort to measure the impact of open data.

November 19, 2015 Maurice McNaughton

A guest post from Maurice McNaughton

Maurice McNaughton is actively involved in the emerging open data movement in the Caribbean as a founding member of the Caribbean Open Institute (COI). The COI is a regional coalition of Caribbean organizations that engages and works with regional governments, researchers, journalists, technologists, NGOs, and academics, to raise awareness, strengthen capacity, and foster collaborations towards the adoption of open development approaches.

In Part 1 of this two-part entry, we talked about a set of problem-centered initiatives being implemented by the Caribbean Open Institute (COI) under the global OD4D project, highlighting four cross-cutting themes central to the Problem-Solving Action Area:

1. Targeted, sector-specific initiatives that seek to harness collaborative, participatory approaches
2. Emphasis on realizing the economic potential of open data
3. Engender active private sector engagement and participation
4. Design for scalability and/or replicability in reach and impact

In this follow-up post, we present the scope of these initiatives and outline four specific upcoming projects.

Our overarching goal is to provide tangible evidence of impact opportunities for Open Data in the Caribbean. Although each sector study identified several use-cases, the final selected initiatives and overall portfolio was designed for balance across the following criteria:

  • Representation: Breadth across the sectors under study: Agriculture, Fisheries/MPAs, Tourism, Education, Official Statistics)
  • Components: A mixture of interventions that include: Capacity building, Inclusion/Active Citizenship, Standardized platforms to enable reuse/scalability, Innovation/Co-production around public service delivery
  • Alignment/linkages: Alignment with existing country initiatives and stakeholder interests
  • Scalability/replicability: Striving to span across sectors and countries in the Caribbean, and to go beyond regional borders and one-time efforts

It was also important that the Initiatives should help the COI to build resident capabilities and develop a portfolio of services and resources that could be re-used across the Caribbean region to support emerging open government data programs.

To ensure consistency and comparability, we needed a structured framework for defining and scoping each initiative. We found the recent open data case study research done by The GovLab to be extremely useful for its impact taxonomy and key success factors (many thanks to Stefaan Verhulst @sverhulst, Chief of Research at The GovLab, for his insightful presentation at ConDatos 2015).

Of course, within the articulated enabling conditions for maximizing open data impact, is premise #4: “Open Data Initiatives That Have a Clear Target or Problem Definition Have More Impact.”

Below are summary descriptions of four open data initiatives being undertaken, with the problem statements that define their relevance and importance:

Towards a Data-Driven Agriculture Sector in Jamaica
Agriculture continues to be a critically important sector in the Jamaican economy. It represents 9% of Gross Domestic Product and employs close to 19% of the Jamaican population. However, while the agriculture value chain is acutely sensitive information availability, limited resources constrain public agencies’ ability to collect, maintain and supply the high quality data assets necessary to effective operation the sector. This result is data gaps that inhibit effective service delivery and information asymmetries that disadvantage the most vulnerable sector contributors.

This initiative will seek to demonstrate the impact of an agriculture sector data partnership to overcoming these structural challenges in data access and management. Applying emergent best practice around government digital services this initiative will facilitate a shared data commons that lowers the barriers to accessing agricultural data, while sharing the costs of data collection and maintenance across multiple participating agencies and information services.

Establish the Caribbean School of Data
The Caribbean region is generally regarded as “data poor,” not just because of limited access to high quality, locally relevant data, but also cultural and institutional habits and capacity limitations (both in the public and private sectors) often forego the use of data, and other forms of evidence, for policy and decision making. There is general civil society and media apathy towards demanding access to, and use of open data for more critical investigation and analysis.

A comprehensive and sustainable “data literacy” program will seek to develop greater awareness, attitudes, competencies and capacity to build a stronger data culture across the Caribbean.

Open Data and Interactive Community Mapping: Empowering Local Community Tourism
The Tourism sector in the Caribbean faces a number of systemic challenges, including the dominance of the sector by large properties. Small operators have an inherent disadvantage due to lack of financial resources, organizational capabilities and visibility. Indirect consequences of this marginalization includes high leakage rates and diminished linkages with other sectors in the domestic economy.

Community Based Tourism provides a unique setting for a bottom-up, demand-driven Open Data Initiative, that engages the local actors in the community as major contributors to the production and publishing of crowdsourced open data and indigenous content that could become a catalyst for participatory economic development.

Visualizing the Structure and Linkages in the Domestic Economy Using National Statistics (Administrative Data)
Several important data sources, collected for the purposes of official statistics, could be of value in re-use by businesses, media, analysts and academics. However these data sources are often not readily accessible or comprehensible by non-statisticians. For instance, data used to produce the Input/Output Tables are collected on a regular basis by NSOs but these tables are only produced periodically (~ every 5 years after the economy has been rebased) because of the resource constraints and the effort required to conduct this activity on a continuous basis.

The specific goal to be addressed by this initiative is to enhance the visibility, relevance, re-use and utility of national statistics and related data in data-driven engagement/assessment and policy/decision-making, with a specific focus on the Input-Output Table and other related Administrative data.

Each of our case studies will test one or more “Theories of Change” about Open Data in the Caribbean. These assertions (not hypotheses), derived from the ongoing action research and experimental work of the COI, include:

  • Intermediaries will play a significant role both as catalysts and enablers of open data initiatives.
  • Innovation fellowships provide an important mechanism for collaborative government-civil society co-creation in key developments.
  • The value sustainability of the open data initiatives in the region will rely on a vibrant, coherent Caribbean open data ecosystem of actors including: Government agencies, technologists, academia, private sector, media, NGOs, and Multilateral support.
  • Governments’ role will require active participation on supply and demand sides of the Caribbean open data ecosystem.
  • Multi-sector approaches will drive the greatest economic returns on open data.
  • Scale limits and resource deficits will require common resources and shared use, i.e., the Caribbean Digital Commons.

To learn about the scope and details of these initiatives and to follow their ongoing progress, readers can visit the COI website: Our website itself is also being upgraded as part of this program, to become a more effective knowledge repository on all things open data in the Caribbean, using the emerging best practices of semantic web technologies (we thank our colleagues at W3C Brazil, particularly @yaso, for their guidance in this regard).

These interventions are timely, given the significantly increased interest in open data by Governments across the Caribbean, bolstered by the joint efforts of the World Bank and UK-DFID. Countries such as Jamaica, St. Lucia, Trinidad & Tobago, the Dominican Republic and Antigua have recently completed Open Data Readiness Assessments (ODRAs) and are now actively engaged in the development of government open data portals (see and policy frameworks.

We anticipate that the emerging open data policies will reflect the spirit and guiding principles of the recently launched International Open Data Charter. Hopefully our efforts with these demand-side interventions will amplify the effectiveness of those government-led initiatives, and provide practical, justifiable evidence of the significant opportunity that open data represents for the Caribbean community, by the time we arrive at IODC16 in Madrid, Spain.

November 17, 2015 Fabrizio Scrollini

A guest post from Fabrizio Scrollini

Fabrizio Scrollini is the Research Coordinator of the Latin American Open Data Initiative. He is  a PhD candidate at the London School of Economics and Political Science and Chairman of DATA, an Uruguayan based NGO working on transparency, open data, and human development. As an academic Fabrizio is interested in accountability institutions, access to information, transparency, and open data.

As the international open data charter  gains momentum  in the context of the wider development agenda related to the sustainable development goals set by the United Nations, a pertinent question to ask is: will open data policies contribute to solve development challenges? In this post  I try to answer this question grounded in recent Latin American experience to contribute to a global debate.

Latin America has been exploring open data since 2013, when  the first open data unconference (Abrelatam) and  conference took place in Montevideo. In September 2015 in Santiago de Chile a vibrant community of activists, public servants, and entrepreneurs gathered  in the third edition of Abrelatam and Condatos. It is now a more mature community. The days where it was sufficient to  just open a few datasets and set  up a portal are now gone. The focus of this meeting was on collaboration and use of data to address several social challenges.

Take for instance the health sector. Transparency in this sector is key to deliver better development goals. One of the panels at Condatos showed three different ways to use data to promote transparency and citizen empowerment in this sector. A tu servicio, a joint venture of DATA  and the Uruguayan Ministry of Health helped to standardize and open public datasets that allowed around 30,000 users to improve the way they choose health providers. Government-civil society collaboration was crucial in this process in terms pooling resources and skills. The first prototype was only possible because some data was already open.

This contrasts with Cuidados Intensivos, a Peruvian endeavour  aiming to provide key information about the health sector. Peruvian activists had to fill right to information requests, transform, and standardize data to eventually release it. Both experiences demanded a great deal of technical, policy, and communication craft. And both show the attitudes the public sector can take: either engaging or at the very best ignoring the potential of open data.

In the same sector look at a recent study dealing with Dengue and open data developed by our research initiative. If international organizations and countries were persuaded to adopt common standards for Dengue outbreaks, they could be potentially predicted if the right public data is available and standardized. Open data in this sector not only delivers accountability but also efficiency and foresight to allocate scarce resources.

Latin American countries – gathered in the open data group of the Red Gealc – acknowledge the increasing  public value of open data. This group engaged constructively in Condatos with the principles enshrined in the charter and will foster the formalization of open data policies in the region. A data revolution won’t yield results if data is closed. When you open data you allow for several initiatives to emerge and show its value.

Once a certain level of maturity is reached in a particular sector, more than data is needed.  Standards are crucial to ensure comparability and ease the collection, processing, and use of open government data. To foster and engage with open data users is also needed,  as several strategies deployed by some Latin American cities show.

Coming back to our question: will open data policies contribute to solve development challenges?  The Latin American experience shows evidence that  it will.  The road towards IODC 2014 in Madrid, Spain will need to have us discussing more about showing value and collaboration to use open government data towards solving development challenges. Data and standards are part of the core. But people, use, and policy are crucial to deliver the open data revolution across sectors.


November 13, 2015 Tony Hirst

Guest post from Tony Hirst

Tony Hirst is a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, UK, open data practitioner, and regular blogger at

Whilst promoting the publication of open data is a key, indeed necessary, ingredient in driving the global open data agenda, promoting initiatives that support the use of open data is perhaps an even more pressing need.

A quick survey of the open data portals hosted by organizations such as the World Bank or the United Nations reveals a staged approach towards promoting data use. In the first case, the portal should make data discoverable at the level the user is likely to want it: a particular indicator for a particular country, or set of countries in a particular region or grouping. Secondly, providing a sortable tabular preview of the data allows for quick comparisons to be made over a small dataset. Some portals also include graphical tools or simple analysis tools for visualizing or otherwise working with the data in situ. Third, the site is likely to provide a tool for exporting the selected data in one or more standard formats – simple CSV text files, or popular spreadsheet formats.

The portal may also make data available via an API – a machine readable application programming interface that allows computer software to interrogate and retrieve the data store directly. APIs support two main ways of working: building your own website that republishes the original data after making calls directly to it, or using data analysis tools that “wrap” the API and allow you to pull the data into the analysis tool directly.

Already, these different modes of publishing the data support different sorts of users with different sorts of skills – and different training needs.

The user of the portal’s own tools are faced with portal specific concerns – “what does this indicator actually refer to?”, for example – as well as more generic data skills, such as being able to read a chart. If a picture saves a thousand words, in the case of a chart, what would those thousand words be, and how many of actually spend the time to “read” the equivalent of a thousand words of description from a chart? Even a simple bar chart can be read in many ways, depending on features as simple as how the bars are sorted, or grouped.

This, then, is the first issue we need to address: improving basic levels of literacy in interpreting  – and manipulating (for example, sorting and grouping) – simple tables and charts. Sensemaking, in other words: what does the chart you’ve just produced actually say? What story does it tell? And there’s an added benefit that arises from learning to read and critique charts better – it makes you better at creating your own.

Associated with reading stories from data comes the reason for telling the story and putting the data to work. How does “data” help you make a decision, or track the impact of a particular intervention? (Your original question should also have informed the data you searched for in the first place). Here we have a need to develop basic skills in how to actually use data, from finding anomalies to hold publishers to account, to using the data as part of a positive advocacy campaign.

After a quick read, on site, of some of the stories the data might have to tell, there may be a need to do further analysis, or more elaborate visualization work. At this point, a range of technical craft skills often come into play, as well as statistical knowledge.

Many openly published datasets just aren’t that good – they’re “dirty”, full of misspellings, missing data, things in the wrong place or wrong format, even if the data they do contain is true. A significant amount of time that should be spent analyzing the data gets spent trying to clean the data set and get it into a form where it can be worked with. I would argue here that a data technician, with a wealth of craft knowledge about how to repair what is essentially a broken dataset, can play an important timesaving role here getting data into a state where an analyst can actually start to do their job analyzing the data.

But at the same time, there are a range of tools and techniques that can help the everyday user improve the quality of their data. Many of these tools require an element of programming knowledge, but less than you might at first think. In the Open University/FutureLean MOOC “Learn to Code for Data Analysis” we use an interactive notebook style of computing to show how you can use code literally one line at a time to perform powerful data cleaning, analysis, and visualization operations on a range of open datasets, including data from the World Bank and Comtrade.

Here, then, is yet another area where skills development may be required: statistical literacy. At its heart, statistics simply provide us with a range of tools for comparing sets of numbers. But knowing what comparisons to make, or the basis on which particular comparisons can be made, knowing what can be said about those comparisons or how they might be interpreted, in short, understanding what story the stats appear to be telling, can quickly become bewildering. Just as we need to improve sensemaking skills associated with reading charts, so to we need to develop skills in making sense of statistics, even if not actually producing those statistics ourselves.

As more data gets published, there are more opportunities for more people to make use of that data. In many cases, what’s likely to hold back that final data use is a skills gap: primary among these are the skills required to interpret simple datasets and the statistics associated with them associated with developing knowledge about how to make decisions or track progress based on that interpretation. However, the path to producing the statistics or visualizations used by the end-users from the originally published open data dataset may also be a windy one, requiring skills not only in analyzing data and uncovering – and then telling – the stories it contains, but also in more mundane technical operational concerns such as actually accessing, and cleaning, dirty datasets.

November 11, 2015 Michael Cañares

Guest post from Michael Cañares

Michael Cañares is the Word Wide Web Foundation’s regional research manager for Asia. Based in the Philippines, he leads the Open Data Lab in Jakarta where he manages the design, implementation, and monitoring of action research projects that harness the power of open data to achieve better social outcomes. Prior to joining the foundation, he was a managing consultant of Step Up Consulting in the Philippines.

The launch of the International Open Data Charter in October this year rallied the cause for accessible, useful, and timely data to support, among other things, key social, economic, and political outcomes. This came right at a critical time when country governments endorsed the Sustainable Development Goals, which recognize that monitoring progress in 16 development goals requires timely, quality, reliable, and accessible disaggregated data.

Amidst these, there is a persistent realization that data quality, especially in the developing world, is a problem. The UN document on the SDGs, for example, highlighted the need to invest in initiatives that would strengthen national data systems. The 2015 International Open Data Conference report recognizes that substantial reforms are needed to guarantee data quality, calling for strategic interventions in ensuring the continuous supply of high quality data sets that stakeholders can use to achieve impact.

Capacity to supply and use data is at the heart of these processes. It is acknowledged that open data is only a foundation for impact from which different uses and results can emerge – to improve governance outcomes, to fight corruption, to stimulate better economic performance, and achieve broader social outcomes, among others. But the quality of uses as well as results, hinges on several factors. It is not just about open data.

The results of the Open Data in Developing Countries research highlighted one metaphor to explain how open data can lead to tangible results. In what is referred to as the “domino effect”, it was argued that there are many different pieces that need to be lined up before open data can result in outcomes and impact. Good data quality and metadata, functioning of intermediaries as CSO, researchers, businesses, and media, receptiveness of decision-makers to data-driven policy-making or program development – these are some of those necessary pieces that need to be in place before open data can generate its envisioned results. To put this in place, there is a need to build capacity of suppliers, intermediaries, and users of data.

Capacity building is necessary for government bureaucrats, civil servants, and rank-and-file employees so that they are convinced that open data can generate results and are able to disclose priority high-value datasets. Capacity building is critical so that intermediaries are able to access, analyze, use, and disseminate open data. Capacity building is important on the part of citizens, so that they can exercise beneficial usage.  Briefly, as indicated in the IODC 2015 report, there is an overwhelming need to “build capacity to produce and use open data effectively”.

Nevertheless, it is important to highlight, that several of the interventions intended to increase skills related to open data are training, not capacity building. The latter is a wider concept that involves not only training people but ensuring that policy, technology, institutions, and resources are available to undertake a particular task. The conduct of training on open data is important, but it will only yield results when people are trained in an environment where policies of disclosure are in place, when technology is available and accessible to allow timely provision and use of data, when there are actual opportunities for conversations between governments and citizens, among other things. Thus, off-the-shelf, canned, short-term, standard modules can work only to a certain extent, if not accompanied with interventions that would create an enabling environment for open data to be shared, used, and reused.

In the next International Open Data Conference in Madrid, Spain in 2016, it would be useful to look back at what has happened to the committed actions in Canada this year. It would also be useful to see if in the area of capacity building, we get our approaches and methods right, and whether we are able to move ourselves an inch closer to the vision of not leaving anyone behind in terms of open data. It would be good to have a sense of what is the status of the goal of ensuring that suppliers and users of data are capacitated, measuring the results using a common yardstick that the open data community develops and owns.  

November 3, 2015 Katie Clancy

By Katie Clancy

A full four years after the emergence of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in 2011, the dialogues have changed. Over 1,900 people converged in Mexico City to discuss, measure, and understand Open Government, including representatives from over 66 national governments and civil society groups from around the world – with a particular focus on the links between the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and the OGP. The diversity in the crowds ensured that many of the panels, activities, and workshops contained lively debate about the meaning of openness, the importance of freedom of information, and how to move forward to ensure we are connecting things like open data with changes to people’s’ everyday lives. Summit-goers also widely promoted the importance of adopting a critical perspective on openness – of examining and acknowledging what is and isn’t working. The summit was widely acknowledged for bringing additional breadth and depth to open topics.

Defining What Open Data Is and Isn’t

image 1
Graphic credit: Open Data Charter

At the 2015 International Open Data Conference (IODC15), the Open Data Charter was officially launched for consultation in an effort to come to a common understanding of what open data is – and how to use it to improve people’s’ lives. At the OGP closing ceremonies, the six principles of the charter were officially adopted by 17 governments, and endorsed by countless organizations. The IODC15 made it clear that collaboration over platforms and policies will be essential to realizing the promises of open data – and that open data is truly about the people that use and benefit from that data.


“We’re not a startup. This is about the commons”: Understanding the Challenges of the Open Data Movement

IMG_6423The Open Data for Development Program, one of the permanent co-hosts of the IODC16, hosted a workshop on what’s next for open data. The workshop, which engaged some key figures in the open data space, quickly went over what had come before (i.e., from “your data, NOW” to bridging communities and creating common principles and standards) and asked some important questions about the biggest challenges faced by the community. For example: should open data still be a “big tent” topic that continues to bridge sectors, or will it start to become more sector-based? Where does the commons fit into all of this? How do we guide governments whose interest is surging in open data to best practices? And for those who have not yet caught the open data bug, how can we bring policy makers who don’t believe it is a “sexy topic” to the table? How do we focus on sustainable economic development through data?

While there are still a lot of questions on the table, these important debates will help to shape the upcoming IODC16 in Madrid, Spain. For example, the importance of leaving no one behind will be critical to the future of open data initiatives – we need to invest in building data communities globally, and in connecting with ordinary people. We need to invest in the infrastructure needed to ensure that we can run and scale all of the great open data initiatives that are emerging. Panellists reinforced an important lesson: we are doing this for the public good. There is space for all actors, including governments, civil society, and the private sector to participate – but it needs to be collaborative and commons based. Citizens will be the ones driving their own empowerment and participation.  

Linking Openness and Freedom of Information

Graphic credit: Andres Snitcofsky/Cargografias
Graphic credit: Andres Snitcofsky/Cargografias

We all agree that access to knowledge is central to empowering citizens around the world. But how this knowledge is shared – the forms it takes and the freedom and accessibility of those forms is also critical in realizing openness.

A critical debate that wove through the entire week of the OGP summit was the importance of freedom of information, and how it is not enough to just open information such as data – there must be freedom of information as well. And the reality is that there are already so many communities working towards the end goal – information as empowerment – but we all need to join together to collaboratively move forward to realize the end goal: oversight, accountability, and transparency, and in the end – how people live. This important information can also be used to promote economic benefit within countries – making it essential to work together to further these goals.

Evolving the Conversation

The Open Government Partnership will continue to be an important space for moving governments towards a new way of engaging – openly, transparently, and accountably – with their citizens. The summit proved that a broad agenda is possible – including engaging different actors, and facilitating a space for them to come to work together on new initiatives and ideas. The next summit will be in two years’ time. In the lead-up to that time, the 4th International Open Data Conference will be held in Madrid – and will seek to help bring good practice into being – and support the scaling of new efforts.

November 2, 2015 Martin Tisne

A guest post from Martin Tisne

As director of policy at Omidyar Network, Martin brings extensive experience advocating for change in government and donor policies and driving sector-level change in the field of government transparency and accountability. Based in London, Martin leads policy, advocacy strategy, and related investments for the global Government Transparency initiative. 

There is a huge amount of talk about a ‘data revolution’. The phrase emerged in the years preceding this September’s announcement of the Sustainable Development or Global Goals, caught on, and has recently been strongly reaffirmed by the launch of a Global Partnership on Sustainable Development Data.

The importance of data in measuring, assessing, and verifying the new Global Goals has been powerfully made and usually includes a mention of the data needing to be ‘open’. However, the role of ‘open’ has not been clearly articulated. Fundamentally, the discussion focuses on the role of data (statistics for example) in decision-making, and not on the benefits of that data being open to the public. Until this case is made, difficult decisions to make data open will go by the wayside.

Much of the debate justly focuses on why data matters for decision-making. Knowing (link is external) how many boys and girls are in primary and secondary schools, how good their education is, and the number of teachers in their schools, are examples of relevant data used in shaping education delivery, and perhaps policy. Likewise, new satellite and cell phone data (link is external) can help us prevent and understand the causes of death by HIV AIDS, TB, and Malaria.

Proponents of the data revolution make powerful points, such as that 1 in 3 births go unregistered. If you are uncounted, you will be ignored. If you don’t have an identity, you do not exist.

Yet as important as this information is, I still can’t help but think: Do we change the course of history with the mere existence of more data or because people access it, mobilize, and press for change?

We need an equally eloquent narrative for why ‘open’ data matters and what it means.

To my thinking, we need the data to be open because we need to hold governments accountable for their promises under the Global Goals, in order to incentivize action. The data needs to be available, accessible and comparable to enable journalists and civil society to prod, push and test the validity of these promises. After all, what good are the Goals if governments do not deliver, beginning with the funding to implement? We will need to know what financial resources, both public and private, will be put to work and what budget allocations governments will make in their draft budgets. We need to have those debates in the open, not in smoke-filled rooms.

Second, the data needs to be open in order to be verified, quality-checked and improved. The most powerful argument for opening up data is simply that it will make it better – its quality will increase. I have been told countless times by government officials that they could not open the data because they were not sure it was correct or good enough. But that precisely is a very good reason to open it up, thus enabling the crowd to fact check it.

Furthermore, we need to open up not just the statistics, but also the information on how it was developed. We need access to the formula, the algorithms, the models underpinning decision making (e.g. climate models used by countries in planning policy positions for COP21) so we can check and improve them. Many more different eyes on data beyond policy makers means we will come up with better ideas on how to solve the problems that new data illustrates.

Open data is critical because data itself can be held hostage to politics. By opening data, you enable different perspectives on its interpretation and implications.

Lastly, we need the data to be open, because we want the beneficiaries of these services to actually have a voice in changing policies, inputting in to policies and being fully-fledged participants in the development process.

I hear a lot of conversation in the data revolution debates about filling data gaps by accessing new forms of private sector data (on water, sanitation, health etc.) but much less (or not at all) about ensuring that official bodies include citizen-generated data in their analyses (for example supreme audit institutions agreeing to take the results of social audits into account). People have a right to access the data and a right to engage in the debate.

A data revolution where only the powerful get privileged access to more and better data sounds like the opposite of a revolution to me. However, if open data can be shaped to hold governments to account, shared in a way that improves its veracity and utility, and embraced by those who stand the gain the most from it, then perhaps we are participating in a ‘revolution’. Not one defined by bits and bytes, but one where open data empowers individuals and fuels their ability to bring about the changes they wish to see.

One can reasonably argue that having more and better data alone has not changed the course of history. But people have changed history. Let’s empower them.

Originally posted on the Open Government Partnership Blog, October 27, 2015.


October 30, 2015 Maurice McNaughton

A guest post from Maurice McNaughton

Maurice McNaughton is actively involved in the emerging open data movement in the Caribbean as a founding member of the Caribbean Open Institute (COI). The COI is a regional coalition of Caribbean organizations that engages and works with regional governments, researchers, journalists, technologists, NGOs, and academics, to raise awareness, strengthen capacity, and foster collaborations towards the adoption of open development approaches.

Problem-Solving, one of five priority Action Areas to emerge from the extensive deliberations at the 3rd International Open Data Conference (IODC) in Ottawa from May 28-29, 2015, is at the heart of the Open Data movement. Regardless of whether the philosophical driver for a particular open data initiative is increased government transparency, improved public service delivery, enhanced government-citizen collaboration, or a stimulus for innovation/entrepreneurship, opening up data provides a catalyst for problem solving that is relevant across many different sectors, social contexts and data communities.

A few examples from the recent IODC sector-themes underscore this principle: Data + Agriculture = Combatting Hunger; Data + Education = Supporting Systemic Change; Data + Public Sector Accountability = Citizen Empowerment; Data + Indigenous People = Indigenous Voices. Central to this problem-solving mantra is the incredible convening power that open data engenders in bringing together government officials—who have both access to data and an understanding of key policy problems—with stakeholders, domain experts and innovators from outside government, across different countries and different sectors, around shared problem spaces and practical problem solving.

This problem-centric approach has always been an imperative for the emerging Open Data landscape in the Caribbean. In a region where small island developing economies struggle to cope with the lingering effects of the economic recession, tight fiscal space, and limited economic policy discretion, the open data narrative demands tangible returns on the investment of scarce resources, if it is to compete for scarce resources and political attention. In this setting, problem-solving has become the dominant discourse:

  •  In Agriculture, how does Open Data help to combat the vexing problem of praedial larceny?
  •  In Tourism, can Open Data initiatives increase visibility and economic opportunities for small community tourism interests that struggle to survive in a sector dominated by large properties and operators?
  •  In Education, can Open Data analytics help to optimize efficiency and equity in the allocation of financial and material resources across school districts?
  •  In Fisheries & Marine Protected Areas, can Open Data enhance the governance linkages between national, regional, and global stakeholders in order to improve policy, legislative, and managerial decisions in a domain that is critical to Caribbean environmental sustainability?

The COI recently conducted comprehensive studies in key sectors critical to Caribbean economies: Agriculture, Education, Tourism, Fisheries/Marine Protected Areas, and Official Statistics. These studies highlight significant value opportunities for which Open Data can be a catalyst. Arising from these studies, four strategic initiatives will be executed over the next 9-12 months, each of which is anchored by a clearly-defined and scoped Problem Statement and together comprise the substance of the COI’s program of work under the global OD4D project. The details of these initiatives will be discussed in Part 2 of this Blog, however collectively they address 4 key cross-cutting themes that are central to the Problem-Solving Action Area.

  1. Targeted, sector-specific approaches that seek to harness the complementary strengths of government, private sector, NGOs, and academia in enabling context-aware and high-impact innovation exchange. The Caribbean shares strong interest in open data initiatives in Agriculture and Education with the global community. However our focus on challenges in Tourism, Fisheries, and Marine-protected-areas, not often seen in the global open data discourse, reflects the distinctive nature and priorities of the region.
  1. Harnessing the economic potential of open data in non-traditional spaces will be explored within the context of community tourism, as a means of capacity building, stimulating entrepreneurship, and generating economic lift for marginalized groups.
  1. Engender active private sector engagement and participation in the open data value chain, including awareness and capacity building for entrepreneurs and enterprise to make greater use of open data as an economic resource.
  1. Scalability in reach and impact is a desirable attribute of problem-centered open data initiatives. For the Caribbean, which has been perennially challenged by the small-scale of island economies, we explore scalability through both replication and the concept of a Caribbean Digital Commons that is not confined by geographical boundaries.

Lean principles suggest that effective problem-solving is enhanced by experimentation and iteration towards “good-enough” solutions. The Caribbean offers to the larger open data community, a uniquely configured developing context that is rich in diversity, but small enough to allow for agile experimentation. As we look towards IODC 2016 in Madrid, Spain we expect that the Caribbean initiatives will contribute meaningfully to the growing portfolio of evidence of the effective, high-impact, and sustainable use of open data.

Guest post from OGP Open Data Working Group (Stephen Walker and Jose Alonso, Co-Anchors)

The mission of the OGP Open Data Working Group (OD WG) is to identify and share good practices to help OGP governments implement their commitments and develop more ambitious and innovative open data action plan commitments. The OD WG focuses its efforts on four work streams: Principles, Standards, Measurement of Impact, and Capacity Building.

The OD WG is jointly coordinated by government and civil society anchors: Stephen Walker, Treasury Board Secretariat, Government of Canada, and José M. Alonso, World Wide Web Foundation.

When it comes to open data, it can sometimes feel like the road we are on is one with no ending. No matter how much is accomplished, there is always more to be done. This is why we must take the chances we get to celebrate the victories we’ve achieved, but always with an eye on what’s next.

First, the victories – on the margins of the International Open Data Conference in Ottawa at the end of May 2015, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Open Data Working Group (co-chaired by Government of Canada and the Web Foundation), the Government of Mexico, the International Development Research Centre, the Open Data for Development (OD4D) Network, and Omidyar Network convened a meeting of open data champions from around the world to discuss next steps for consultations on the development of an International Open Data Charter. This meeting brought together representatives of governments, civil society organizations, and multilateral institutions from around the world who committed to act as “Stewards” of the Charter, supporting development, launch, and implementation.

An international consultation was launched, and at we received over 300 comments, suggestions, and questions on the draft Charter Principles. After weeks of work incorporating the thoughtful feedback we received, Charter Stewards met again in Santiago, Chile in September to finalize the text. Finally, on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly, the President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, launched the Charter Principles and called on governments to express their commitment to adopting and implementing them.

The temptation, of course, is to kick up your heels. The Charter is launched! The text is out there for all to see! All that’s left now is for the endorsements to roll in.

But with the Charter Principles launched, the work is just beginning. We all know that it is not enough to say that data should be open. The “how?”, “when?”, and “why?” remain in the air even when the principles are agreed upon.

So we are here now on the road to IODC 2016. Throughout the remaining months of 2015, a number of Charter launch and adoption events are planned. One of the biggest moments, though, will come next year in Spain. By the time of IODC 2016, we hope to see many governments – countries, states, and cities – adopting the Charter’s Principles. And in order to ensure that they are able to implement those principles, a number of details and structures remain to be defined.

While the Principles are the keystone of government’s’ commitment to open data, the Charter must also be an enabling resource that supports governments in their effort to become more open and transparent. For this reason, Charter Stewards will be working in the coming months to develop a Charter Resource Centre. This was discussed thoroughly at a Charter workshop during IODC 2015, where we heard from governments and civil society organizations about what resources they thought were needed to support Charter implementation. Definitions of key Charter terms, sample policies and open data platforms, and existing self-assessment tools, are just some of the elements governments will need to implement and expand successful, effective open data initiatives that reflect the Principles of the Charter.

Also needed are mechanisms to hold governments accountable for their commitments, and incentives to push governments to be ambitious in their open data goals. Governments implementing the Charter can report on their work via existing mechanisms, such as the OGP National Action Plan. But a commitment is empty without follow-through. Independent accountability and incentive mechanisms are needed to push governments to work toward open data, and to call out those governments who speak about the value of data without actually practicing the values of openness. Over the coming months, Stewards must find ways to ensure governments meet the Charter commitments they set out for themselves, without creating burdensome or bureaucratic new assessment systems.

There is also the essential element of collaboration and consultation: ensuring city governments can implement Charter Principles just as easily as countries do; ensuring the private sector is brought into conversations on open data and privacy; ensuring civil society organizations are consulted on Charter principles and accountability mechanisms. Bringing together these global conversations, and focusing these diverse actors on the core principles that all open data champions work every day to support, will not be a simple or an easy task.

At IODC 2015, Charter Stewards agreed to create a series of Working Groups, each focused on a particular aspect of the work above. As these Working Groups are now beginning their initial discussions and formulating work plans for the coming months, we are focused on delivering the information and resources countries need to support Charter implementation. At IODC 2016 in Spain, we will be ready to highlight the Charter and the Resource Centre developed to support its implementation everywhere.

On the road to IODC 2016, we will be focused on creating and curating the kind of supporting, enabling resources that can help governments unlock the potential of open data, and implement the core Charter principles that will embed a culture of openness around the world.

And beyond that? We are excited to see where this road will take us next.

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