contribSilvana Fumega is originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina. She holds a PhD (University of Tasmania, Australia); her thesis is focused on international NGOs working with Open Government Data and Freedom of Information policies. She also holds a Master’s degree in Public Policy from Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand) and a degree in Political Science from the University of Buenos Aires (Argentina). She also participated of the Research Programme Chevening Hansard (United Kingdom). She has served as a consultant for several international organizations, governments and civil society groups
Two years ago we –quite impressed– highlighted the fast progress of the open data agenda in Latin America . Today, a bit less surprised, we keep reflecting on the role of many actors from the region in the global open data agenda.
Within the framework of the 4th International Open Data Conference, Latin American actors shared some of the initiatives that have been implemented in the region. From research to development of applications in the civic technology sphere, including data journalism, they’ve had their chance during the conference and its many pre-events. In this context, during the first conference day’s afternoon, we had a round table with some of the actors in the region, along with some actors from the Caribbean, to discuss about what’s going on in Latin America. A –quite reduced– list of some of the highlighted topics of this session and the Conference is included below:
- Latin America has a lot to offer to the open data agenda. These advances are not exemplified anymore as developing countries that try to follow the agenda of first world countries, but as actors with a weight of their own that contribute equally to the dialogue. Perhaps the fact that Argentina will organize the next IODC exemplifies this quite well.
- At the Latin America and Caribbean regional talk at IODC16 the work of civil society actors was addressed. These actors are in a very active state in the data release processes and, more comprehensibly, in the promotion of the agenda. In any case, infrastructure in management and public data release terms is still quite precarious in most countries of the region. There is still a long way ahead in this sense.
- Despite the advances and the dialogue, it is also necessary to identify obstacles and pending tasks such as the data infrastructure. Even though the agenda has experienced strong developments, cultural change around opening (not only data but the government in general) still means a challenge in the region. Cultural change, yet functioning, is still far from becoming a reality in most countries.
- In order to overcome the obstacles it is a sine qua non condition to start thinking on long-term policies (State polities) and not in short-term projects. The logic of fast wins conspires against the development and the possibility of scaling these policies in the region.
- Similarly, one of the points that were repeated most often during the conference –and transcended at regional level– was the necessity of focusing on the problems of the different sectors. It is necessary to start thinking about opening policies at sectoral level, responding to the specific problems of public policy implementation in each area and collaborating with the construction of a community of intermediaries who collaborate and add value to these data. We must invest in the construction of a community of users and intermediaries.
- Regarding the previous point, we need actors who work on the open data agenda to understand, just like other communities did, that this agenda is not an end itself, but a means to achieve/solve other problems.
- It is also crucial to highlight that language unity, in many contexts, has collaborated along with the leadership of some actors to the fluid dialogue between different actors from the region. Seeing the professional bonds that have turned into personal in many cases, the dialogue and exchange of experiences and reflections is very fluid and doesn’t stop surprising actors from other latitudes. This exchange should be extended to other actors such as those living in the Caribbean. The dialogue between Latin American and Caribbean actors is not yet as fluid as some would think. Hence we need an additional effort to try to connect with these actors and empower the agenda in both regions, which is perceived by many as one only region.
- This parity is possible due to the capacities that have been developed in the region and that allow the advancement of the agenda. This generation of capacities is a point that needs all the support –through the articulation of actors and resources– to keep on generating actors and initiatives within the region that can continue the advances of this agenda.
To close this blog post I would like to point out something that has generated a lot of discussion (very enriching, though) and numerous tweets: the “open washing” idea.
Even though this point should have its own post (we’ll see if time and those pending articles permit), it is worth mentioning that the regional and global open data communities have started to lose innocence –which has taken us at times to an incommensurate enthusiasm and optimism– in order to start questioning some policies and initiatives that, sometimes, seemed more focused on improving the image of certain actors that on achieving an actual opening of a sector or government. This looked like a sign of maturity from many of the involved actors in the promotion of the agenda and this should be celebrated. From now on we still need to see how the agenda will develop in Latin America and the rest of the world and how, all together, we can get to minimize the negative consequences of this “open washing” in the cases where it is identified. At a personal level, I applaud this advance.
 More info: EN: http://opendatacon.org/increasing-demand-measugin/ ES: http://opendatacon.org/2431/?lang=es