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September 28, 2016 Fabrizio Scrollini1

Fabrizio Scrollini is the Research Coordinator of the Latin American Open Data Initiative. He has a PhD from 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.

Latin Americans will celebrate the fourth edition of AbrelatamCondatos in Colombia in November 2016. The Latin American community evolved from a small gathering in Montevideo in 2013 to consolidating the open data field in the region. As the region matures, the early enthusiasm for the killer app, or the mantra publish it and they will come” keeps fading away. This is good news, as techno-utopia gives room to proper and complex engagement with the key regional challenges.

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Updates on the Latin American open data agenda

Governments are in fact releasing more open data. Some of them even have policies for this and are fairly progressive. A group of organizations used open data coming from governments to build services that improved peoples lives. The Latin American Open Data Initiative (Iniciativa Latinoamericana por los Datos Abiertos, ILDA) research has shown that with limited government involvement it is possible to build standards and create new apps, such as the case of respiraciudad.org to understand air quality in Mexico City.  ILDA’s research also shows that when governments are involved there are more chances for significant impact, as demonstrated by the atuservicio case.

ILDA’s research shows the potential of open data in cities, public services, shared challenges (e.g., vector transmitted diseases), and good governance. Further, a group of researchers and advocates showed the way to train and assist people to use data to address social challenges; take for instance the framework ILDA is  exploring  for open data as an open educational resource, developing open data competencies for civic education.

Governments organized themselves to address the current demand and set up a group in the context of the Organization of American States. In 2010 this situation would have been difficult to predict (or imagine). Governments opening up data, engaging with the public, and co-creating services is something fairly recent, when taking into account the short history of this movement. In such a short time frame the movement achieved a lot.

Unfortunately, releasing open government data is not enough. Some open data portals are just a façade of openness. If a government puts up just a few datasets and calls this an open data policy, is certainly not sufficient. On the other hand, if the government puts up a lot of datasets in open data formats but if people are unable to use them, this is also not sufficient. The field needs to get better at including people with less technical skills to understand the value of open data.

Hackathons could be a good idea (albeit, increasingly their allure is wearing off) if these activities help to build a diverse community of practice around a topic, which then is able to follow-up building solutions and engaging a wider group of actors. Finally, if people’s life or work could be under threat for using data (as has been the case of some data journalists), then the field still has serious issues to address. I argue that Latin America needs to look seriously into three things:

  • basic institutions,
  • priorities, and
  • inclusion.

What is next for the Latin American open data agenda?

In 2011, I wrote a very obscure paper about open data as a web institution in the making. By 2016 the ground rules for the release and use of open  data are often not very clear. It does not qualify as an “institutionalized” or “given” behaviour by governments around the global north or the global south. Experiences such as the African Data consensus and the Open Data Charter offer a way to address this concern. A few governments use their current right to information framework to address the release of open data, while others have improved it by including open formats as part of their proactive transparency duty. Countries should consider the adoption of rules that establish clearly which data is public and reusable. In Latin America a progressive group of countries, cities, and regions already adopted the Charter as a guide for their open data policies.

The open data field needs coordinated action to address development challenges. Resources are limited, meaning actors in this field need to prioritize. In the Latin American case, open data to fight corruption, improve public services, and promote the inclusion of women and excluded minorities seems like a reasonable way forward, according to regional priorities. The field needs to set up the basic living infrastructure that will allow the ebb and flow of data  among actors, increasing quality, quantity, and use of data. Open standards, infomediaries grounded in the specific fields and open tools (as in open source software) are essential for scaling up open data-driven initiatives. How to scale open data initiatives in a sustainable and inclusive way? This is a question ILDA is looking forward to answering.

Finally, if the data revolution is going to deliver change (and not just spreadsheets for computer screens in the global north), it needs to be inclusive. This applies to several areas in this field.

Fellow researchers from the GovLab at NYU rightly noted the need for a common framework to assess progress and  address serious issues in the way research is carried out. My contribution to this regard is that we also need to think increasingly about including a generation of researchers from the global south to address these challenges and provide alternative views about the use (and potential abuse) of open data.

Further, our research agenda should evolve. Governments, civil society, and the private sector may need to explore new ways to partner, fostering collaboration. Co-production of public services offers great potential and yet is still a practice largely unexplored. Global north based institutions in all sectors may also need to adjust their practices, to fully include global south partners.

The field needs to build capacities and a diverse leadership to take advantage OF opportunities, considering the value of context and local actors.While there is room for basic common standardization in some areas, it is extremely unlikely that what works in Norway will work in Ethiopia. To adapt, adjust, and innovate we need leaders. Leaders in this space need to evolve beyond traditional “techie profiles” to include other areas and profiles. Crucially, we need more women on board. To support this diverse leadership across Latin America to scale up open data driven projects, is part of what ILDA is set out to do, in the near future.

I have previously argued that it could be very difficult (in the short run) to reach a world of frictionless data. A world where every dataset could be standardized and would be interconnected with little intermediation. It may even not be desirable. To create social and economic value from  open data, I argue that we need communities working on specific issues, releasing and using data. Its the people and the process that yields value, not data per-se. If the revolution is going to deliver value in an inclusive and sustainable way, it cannot be left to  portals, APIs, and a few engineers to do it. It has to be a social endeavour enabled by new technological means.

Talking about the Latin American open data agenda at IODC 2016

At the upcoming edition of the IODC, myself and Maurice McNaughton will be facilitating the Regional Talk on Latin America and the Caribbean (details here). Though the open data agenda in this region has come a long way since the last edition of the IODC in 2015, there are many pressing discussion topics to explore with regards to this region, such as scaling up the open data-driven initiatives, setting up ground rules for governing open data, and delivering inclusive innovation. In the Latin America and the Caribbean Regional Talk, we hope to engage a select group of panelist and the public in an open discussion to explore these topics.

Should you be interested in further engaging in sessions or activities pertaining to open data and this region, the following pre-events, sessions, and activities will also be relevant:


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April 25, 2016 Heather E. McIntosh

Recently an IODC community member Mor Rubinstein published an insightful and timely blog, titled “An Open Letter to IODC 2016”.

The post is insightful because it discusses some really important topics related to inclusivity and empowerment. The post is timely because the IODC 2016 organizing team has recently closed the Call for Proposals for the 4th edition of the event, the results of which will ultimately inform the event’s agenda.

Mor made some really important points related to being more bold in our content and the importance of following-up and making good on our commitments at IODC 2016 for the IODC roadmap. Beyond these points, the concept of inclusion was woven throughout the post, which is something we struggled with last year and seek to improve upon this year.

As a member of the 3rd and 4th editions organizing team, I’d like to think I can speak to some of the challenges we continue to face with regards to inclusivity.

Mor’s first point on gender balance is something we struggled with last year. As a team we worked throughout the planning process to recruit and include women, and during our internal evaluation of the IODC 2015 immediately following the event, we all agreed that this was something we needed to work at for future editions. Prior to Mor’s comments, we have internally discussed the importance of this in preparing the agenda for IODC 2016 and have also included this as a goal on our “What is IODC?” page. As a female who has attended many conferences, often being in the minority, I value Mor’s comment and want to emphasize that within the IODC organizing team, we are working at this.

Inclusion, of course, goes beyond gender balance. Regional, ethnic, and linguistic diversity are most certainly important for successful events, and these are challenges that we also continue to face.

Linguistic diversity is something that, though we want to improve on, we face constraints with regards to resources. At present, the IODC team has been forced to make the event, for the most part, unilingual (due to budget); we will, however, have translation services into Spanish for some of the main sessions, and hope to facilitate spaces for meetings in specific languages throughout the pre-events and conference. Though we acknowledge that this is a current limitation of the event, this is still a work in progress.

A lot of these shortcomings, limitations, and weakness—in my opinion—come down to growing pains. Having only been involved in the event for just over one year, I have seen IODC grow in leaps and bounds.

In speaking with Mor recently, she acknowledged that she understood that a lot of her comments were likely being worked on internally within the IODC team. She noted, however, that if the community—especially a highly interactive community like that of open data—doesn’t actually know about the processes or how these “growing pains” are playing out, it can make for confusion and discontent among the audience.

This to me was the kicker.

From a communications perspective, we have been wrestling with a new brand and website. Most of our organizing support team members did not come on board until this past mid-January, and we have recently been working constantly on the Call for Proposals.

In the midst of all this, we have also not been communicating directly with our community about many of these things related to, for example, inclusivity, as some elements of our planning still need to come up to speed.

However, in this, it is important that we communicate to the community that developing an event that strives for diversity, inclusivity, and innovation remains our central goal. Moreover, developing a 2016 report that further develops on the 2015 report and works to hammer down commitments is also pertinent.

Mapping out the road to Spain is a collective activity. As organizers, it is our duty to work to provide a space that fosters the best possible event for an analytic, reflective, and growing community. Though we have been working on many of the things Mor mentioned in her post behind the scenes, we wanted to take this opportunity to reach out the community and make public our efforts for inclusivity, but also some of our challenges and shortcomings.

In the meantime, note that we have created a Code of Conduct, which we have since made more prominent on our website. We also continually welcome comments, feedback, and contributions from the IODC community.

Connect with us via Twitter or send us as e-mail at contact@opendatacon.org at any time, as the ideas and expectations of the IODC community are central to our organizing efforts.

Hope to see you in Madrid!

 

Cover photo by Llywelyn Nys


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February 4, 2016 Jose Mª Subero Munilla

Author: Jose Mª Subero Munilla

IT Adviser at the Aragón Government. PhD Civil Engineer in the study field: Transport Infrastructures and Land Planning. Master in Public Administration. As part of the innovation department of the Aragón Government I manage its open data project. We have launched some initiatives in the open data project as the open data portal, the open budget portal, the social networws monitoring service, the semantic web project AragoPedia or the Jacathon meeting. I am also professor at the “city management” Master of the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC). Previously I have been directly related with urban and land planning both at the public and private sector. 

There is no question; open data is a hot topic inside governments. There are lots of events about open data, as this upcoming IODC16, worldwide are lots of initiatives trying to publish the data of governments, as our Aragón Open Data project, there are funds in many international institutions, as the EU, etc.

As all we know, or at least we are starting to know, that open data have some important effects in society and related with social and economical improvements. Open data improves transparency in governments and is a key issue to achieve a better accountability. Furthermore, open data is an important asset for digital economy and enterprises needs to handle with governmental data to foster new business and to improve the efficiency of traditional business. Even inside governments we are starting to understand the importance to re-use our own information and to have accurate and real time data to improve our performance with citizens.

But although we need all these open data improvements, do we know something about people who are providing the data? Do we know why government employees are offering their data? And the most important question, do we really know which incentives civil servants have to ease the publishing procedures? Do they have any incentive? These are tough questions and we think that open data managers have to start thinking about it.

If we take a look to civil servants incentives, we can see that economically there is no incentive at all, they are not going to earn more money just easing data publication. In terms of tasks developed, a civil servant who is cooperating with open data initiatives usually will have some extra work, at least initially. Even worst, a civil servant who is publishing the data that is managing will have some extra risks. This civil servant will be exposing his job in terms of quality of the data that he is managing or in terms of the possible mistakes that could be in their databases. So, at a first sight, publishing data is not the best business for a civil servant.

But, far away from these facts, in Aragón Open Data we can see that there are many civil servants that are willing to publish their data, literally calling us. The amount of functional areas of the government who are publishing their data are increasing continuously. Therefore there have to be some hidden incentives that are fostering the publishing process, but which are these hidden incentives? In order to improve open data policies we have to be really interested in make them explicit.

This is an open question; we have some intuitions, but we do not have a proper answer. The truth is that civil servants call us to publish data and they are not asking for something instead. In my point of view there are some facts underneath open data that make civil servants think that open data is a “good thing” for society and fosters them to publish their data and to expose themselves publicly. So I really think that they are making an effort for doing the right thing.

You can see this fact properly if you compare open data with other hot topics related with technology as big data, internet of things or smart cities. Civil servants are skeptical if you tell them that they need to improve their computational infrastructure or that there has to be some sensor installed to have better information. But if you tell them that they have to publish their data, as raw as possible, they will agree with you in terms of offer information to citizens and enterprises. In the life of Aragón Open Data initiative, that is 3 years old, I haven’t found anyone who has told me that he does not want to publish his data. Some civil servants can have some doubts about the quality of their data, personal data concerns, their bosses’ attitude to publication and other issues related with the publishing procedure, but you can work with these problems and you can solve them in terms to offer guaranties to civil servants and to make them feel confident about the publication process. But, as I have said, in the whole life of Aragón Open Data, nobody has said “no” to publish and every day we are finding employees who are willing to publish the information.

This positive impact on people’s mind and on civil servants mind is an advantage that has to be taken into consideration, seriously taken into consideration. Meanwhile other governmental initiatives are considered just part of the political game, open data has some principles in it that transcend to regular policies. At the open data initiatives we have to be aware of this and try to connect with these superior feelings that everyday attracts civil servants to publish their data, even it is not “efficient” for them.

As an open issue for the next years, I think that we have to find explicitly the incentives that civil servants have to publish their data and that somehow we have to reward them personally. This will introduce even more incentives in the open data publishing procedures just to be sure that publication is a live stream. Civil servants are usually forgotten in terms of workflow, but if we want a real open data policy, as citizens are the centre of open data front-end, civil servants have to be the centre of the open data back-end. Obviously, to achieve this target, we need to identify more and better incentives for them. So this is the challenge.


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February 2, 2016 Antonio Ibáñez Pascual

Author: Antonio Ibáñez Pascual

Head of SIAU Service and Corporate Web in the Castilla y Leon (Head of Open Government and Internet Presence). As Superior Telecommunications Engineer, worked at Telefónica I+D and Red Eléctrica Telecomunicaciones. He joined Junta de Castilla Y Leon in 2004, and since mid-2005 is responsible for the its internet presence. Currently he also coordinates the strategy of Open Government in the Ministry of the Presidency, where he works in the design, promotion and coordination of initiatives such as those of Open Data, transparency, participation and presence in social networks. Since 2008, he also teaches in various training courses at the Escuela de Administración Pública de Castilla y León.

According to the General Secretary of the ITU, Houlin Zhao, “Advances in information and communications technology (ICT) are enabling generate, transmit and store large quantities of data, and this huge growth is speeding up its pace.”

As already stated the former European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, “Data is the new oil in the digital age”. Other experts such as José Luis Marín concern that “data must be infrastructure for the digital economy.”

In any case, the challenge is to get value from the data for the open data initiatives play a major role.

Now, when we lead an open data initiative, translated almost always in a website where all available datasets are hosted, we must consider the value it brings. Not few studies examine what are the parameters to measure that value, but I would provide my point of view:

Value = (Quantity * Quality * Utility)

Quantity: The more information we make available to re-users, the more possibilities for reuse, due to the increase of data in itself as to the new combinations of use between them.

I think it’s important to note that, in speaking of quantity, we must not refer only to the number of datasets. The same information can be represented in one or multiple datasets, and the variety of information is also important.

Quality: As we know, according to the model defined by Tim Berners-Lee, the more stars, the easier to reuse. Other factors like the detail that we offer, the information, the refresh rate, APIs or formats available and increase the quality.

Utility: Probably the most abstract of all parameters. While any information may have some use, however small, but it is also undeniable there is information which utility (economic, social, transparency …) is much higher than others.

These three factors determine, in my opinion, the value of the initiative. Multiply the value, not as a sum, because they must all be taken into account, paying attention not only to one or two of them.

Finally, i want to complete the equation with a last parameter: the use that is given to data made available to reusers:

Value = (Quantity*Quality*Utility)*Use

Open Data takes effort, and having an initiative in which your information is not reused, is to waste it.

Because creating an Open Data portal, and publish datasets, is the means for re-users to use the data. This is the objective of the initiative.



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 OpenDataCharter.net 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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