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.