For more than two decades North American countries, Canada, Mexico, and the United States, have acknowledged that it is only together that we will be able to meet the challenges of our future.

With a combined population of close to half a billion people, a combined GDP of 20 trillion dollars, and one of the most transcendental regional integration processes in history, NAFTA, North America is today one of the most dynamic and competitive regions of the world focusing on classic issues such as  trade, investment, migration, security, and energy.

In addition to these traditional sectors, there are increasingly more opportunities for our countries to partner on innovative projects and programs including the advancement of open data.

In the past few years open data has continued to appear more and more in our international, regional, and bilateral meetings as a new and promising enabler to boost competitiveness and ensure the wellbeing of our region.

At the international level our three countries are promoting open data through the following multilateral platforms:

At the regional level:

  • In the last North American Leaders’ Summit the three countries pledged to support an increased openness agenda to strengthen development.
  • In October 2016, at the margins of United Nations Global Assembly, we recognized the need for “Open, accessible, and timely data [which] are vital to development and humanitarian efforts across the globe”, through the Joint Declaration on Harnessing the Data Revolution for Climate Resilience.

At the bilateral level:

  • The US and Canada continue to work on the development of shared technical platforms and the development of data standards.
  • Canada and Mexico are working together to develop a stable International Open Data goals and principles as Lead Stewards for the International Open Data Charter.
  • US and Mexico are working to cooperate in the development of national Sustainable Development Goals platforms fueled by open data.

These are just examples of the presence that open data in the North American agenda, but there is much more to do.

Open Data must be acknowledged, at the highest political level, as an enabler of our integration agenda for the benefit of our people.

As we move forward, all countries have emphasized the need to work more with all levels of government, academia, and civil society to establish standards, best practices for data sharing and interoperability, as well as ensuring that open data becomes less fragile and becomes a stable and sustainable resource.

In times where division and closeness loom into our discourse, it is only openness which can shed light into the benefits of our trilateral partnership, by promoting a data driven region and do our best to make smart evidenced based decisions.


Featured cover photo by Delfina de la Rua.


November 15, 2016 Irena Cerović

Irena Cerović is the Portfolio Manager in UNDP Serbia’s governance team.

This year’s IODC featured a big leap in the number of people coming from Eastern Europe and Central Asia, signifying a new part of the world taking up the open data agenda. While this region comprises countries of vastly different size, economic power, and political culture, containing at least three more coherent subregions, what binds them in this context is the sense of being new in the game.

The policy-makers, activists, researchers, and techies from these countries were thus greeted by a global community more mature, pensive, and self-critical than would have been the case several years ago.

Indeed, the gradual pace of progress with open data in the region may suggest that a more thoughtful approach is being taken by these countries internally as well. In good part, of course, this comes of necessity – at least in the Balkans, challenges may concern the mere existence of data, significant quality issues, muddled lines of authority, and a nascent administrative and political culture of evidence-based policy-making. In addition, the overwhelming aspiration of joining the EU coupled with a deep fiscal crisis leaves governments with little maneuvering room or mental space for further innovation. Yet there we all were, reporting more than mere exploratory steps. Ukraine has just joined the International Open Data Charter, Serbia has gone from an ODRA to first hackathons and portal development in little over a year, and other parts of the region are articulating innovative ways of using data to address citizen needs.

Among the reasons for this shift are the relative maturity of civil societies and the readiness of policymakers to benefit from others’ hindsight and consider questions of defining and measuring impact, ensuring feedback loops, prioritizing, and involving users early. The success of these initiatives will depend on how strongly these factors can be sustained over time, and how creative practitioners will be in identifying demand where it exists.

One of the important themes in the East Europe regional talk at IODC16 concerned the ostensible lack of demand for open data in our societies. A recent study in Serbia found both “a very small number of civil society stakeholders who are actively engaged with the topic of open data” and outlined significant potential particularly through partnerships with academia, the tech community, and the media. Activists in Kosovo* deliberately shift attention away from the abstract label of “open data”, focusing entirely on tools for addressing problems of jobs or skills. In Kazakhstan, where the agenda is driven from the top and as part of an ambitious digital drive, demand is more likely defined through use of services. But across the board, results are defined through use, rather than production.

The case for openness is equally strong in countries where open data is developing alongside nascent FOI regulation and where such regulation has been solidly in place for a decade or longer. Although the latter may have the advantage of working institutional arrangements and more ripe general awareness, activists in most countries will still report the threat of open washing as a crucial concern.

The IODC concluded with a firm shared understanding of community commitments for next year’s conference. Questions of capacity building beyond literacy, and even more so those raised as the need for more, and more collaborative research will surely be followed carefully by East Europeans and Central Asians alike.

* This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSC 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence


November 8, 2016 Silvana Fumega

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 [1]. Today, a bit less surprised, we keep reflecting on the role of many actors from the region in the global open data agenda.

. Recuento de algunas discusiones regionales y globales

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.

Recuento de algunas discusiones regionales y globales

  • 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.

[1] 2014: http://silvanafumega.blogspot.com.ar/2014/10/esta-vez-las-noticias-han-llegado.html 2015: http://silvanafumega.blogspot.com.ar/2015/09/los-desafios-de-la-maduracion.html

[2] More info: EN: http://opendatacon.org/increasing-demand-measugin/ ES: http://opendatacon.org/2431/?lang=es


October 27, 2016 Nancy Salem

Nancy Salem is a Senior Research Specialist at the Access to Knowledge for Development Center at the American University in Cairo, working on the project ‘Harnessing the Economic Power of Data in the Middle East and North Africa’, focusing on the the role and potential of data in economic and community development in the MENA region. Salem completed her MSc in Development Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London and holds a BA (Double Major) in History and Multimedia Journalism from The American University in Cairo.

As part of the series of Regional Talks held at IODC 2016, a diverse set of panelists from the Middle East and North Africa converged to review activities and promising initiatives taking place in the region.

A growing community of data projects and partnerships was discussed during the talk. A Data-Driven Innovation week held in February 2016 by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) was highlighted as a high point for the region, bringing together numerous attendees from all over the region to showcase work and build collaborations.

The talk was moderated by Raed Sharif, Senior Program Officer of IDRC’s Networked Economies team, who has been heavily involved with data and open data projects throughout the region.

Jennifer Colville, who manages the Innovation portfolio for the MENA Region in the UNDP regional office in Amman, emphasized the need for more and better data in the region, paired with better access, usability, and data literacy. Much of the UNDP’s work focuses on garnering interest on both the demand and supply side of data, looking to further burgeoning partnerships in the region.

This point was further highlighted by data researcher Nancy Salem from the Access to Knowledge for Development Center at the American University in Cairo. The Data Revolution project at the Center has been mapping out the larger ecosystem of data in the region, with partners in Morocco and Palestine. Building a multidisciplinary community has been essential to this effort, bringing in “unusual suspects” into the scope of data.

Jazem Halioui, Founder and Director of Webradar from Tunisia, showcased the country’s progress in open data. Several ministries have launched open data portals, and budgets have been consistently opened for the past 2-3 years. The  constitution additionally has ensured the right to access to info, right to privacy, and includes open government principles.

Both Ali Rabaie, Data Scientist and CEO of Rebaie Analytics Group from Lebanon, and Dr. Hossam Abdel Gawad, Professor at Cairo University and Director of SETS North Africa, heavily underlined the abundance for data driven innovation in the region.

Rabaie praised a growing entrepreneurial ecosystem while looking for more mentorship in the region. The successful Lebanese startup LittleBits was highlighted.

Abdel Gawad underscored both the potential of a large population of youth and the new opportunities created by technology . He pointed to a mass of data created by connected devices, which creates value that can be used in different sectors.

For the upcoming year, the different panellists emphasized the need to build upon the community that has begin to form between the different partnerships and initiatives. There is specific focus on the possibilities of data for development, as well as data-driven innovation. There is a demand for open data in the MENA region, and capacity building across sectors should continue to strengthen progress made thus far.


October 6, 2016 Paul Mungai

Even though open data in Africa began in 2011, where Morocco and Kenya respectively pioneered the initiative, there was not much activity until the year 2015. Even then, out of a total of 54 countries in Africa, only ten countries have held open data events. It was also observed that some of the countries that looked promising at the beginning, Morocco being a case in point, have not held a significant number of open data events. This is demonstrated in Table 1 below, which provides a count of the events that have been held per country/region since 2011. Regional includes events which involved two or more African countries and are not counted as part of the host country events.

2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 Total Events
Morocco 0 0 0 1 0 0 1
Kenya 1 0 1 1 3 1 7
Nigeria 0 0 0 1 6 0 7
Ghana 0 1 0 0 5 1 7
South Africa 0 0 0 1 0 2 3
Tanzania 0 1 0 0 0 2 3
Cameroon 0 0 0 0 1 2 3
Sierra Leone 0 0 0 0 0 2 2
Namibia 0 0 0 0 0 1 1
Uganda 0 0 1 1 0 0 2
Regional 0 0 0 0 5 4 9
Total Events 1 2 2 5 20 15 45

Table 1: Yearly count of open data events per country or region

Following an analysis of the goals, event activities, and participants, it was observed that there are more African countries than the ones listed above that have been participating in the identified open data events. Examples of these include Liberia, Rwanda, Burkina Faso, Uganda, and Ghana. It is important to determine what is required for them to replicate similar open data activities in their countries. Using Kenya as an example, there is a need for open data champions to spearhead the open data initiatives in these countries.

The main champion needs to hold a senior and influential position in government to help in creating awareness and sensitization among government policy makers. This also applies to the Open Government Partnership (OGP) initiative, since open data is critical in realizing a country’s commitments. Participation by other countries outside Africa such as Jamaica, USA, Canada and UK suggest a willingness to collaborate and share experiences and expertise on open data implementation and institutionalization.

Despite the fact that the initiative is almost six years old now, there is still a need to have events focusing on awareness, sensitization, stakeholder buy-in, and training, even in countries that have held a significant number of events.

There is also need to empower and obtain goodwill and collaboration from the statistical agencies in each country. For instance, Kenya has had several open data activities but with very little participation from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. They are the major implementing partners of open data, and their support is critical in implementing the open data agenda from a national perspective.

On the issue of sustainability and growth, most of the implementing partners such as Code for Africa and Open Knowledge Foundation School of Data are not for profit organizations and are dependent on donor support to carry out their activities. Despite the fact that not many for-profit organizations based on open data have emerged since 2011, there is need to rethink this model and find ways to support new and upcoming for-profit organizations, such as Data Science Ltd in Kenya.

This would help in value creation as companies identify opportunities, and create various commercial products. Already established companies with other sources of revenue, especially the media houses could be interested in working with open data startup companies to help them build some of their products. A good example is The Kenya Nation Media Group, which has created an editorial division based on data driven journalism and has been publishing its articles under a column called NewsPlex in their daily newspaper. Most companies will not want move away from their core business and will be willing to issue contracts to small companies which specialize in data science to conduct some of the analysis and research.

Featured image: Riccardo Annandale


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.

abrelatam-condatos 2016

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:


September 27, 2016 Wei-chung Hwang

This blog provides information on the Regional Talks: Asia Session, which will be held at the 4th International Data Conference (IODC) on Friday October 7, 2016 from 18:00 – 19:00 (CEST) in Room A. Further information on the session can be found here.

Asia is fast becoming the centre of digital innovation for the world. The region accounts for half of the world’s 2.8 billion Internet users, and it is already the largest regional e-commerce market. Following the rapid growth in digital economy, governments around Asia agree that open data is one of the most critical elements of momentum required to keep the balance between economic growth and social equality. It is also thought to be required to increase government transparency and public participation, and to serve as the foundation for innovative services when combined with the private sector’s creativity, which further develops economic value.

Following the global movement of open data and data economy, starting from 2010, governments in Asia started to develop the national open data agenda. According to Open Knowledge Foundation’s global open data index (announced at end of 2015), many Asian countries performed well and were ranked within the top one-third of the rankings (e.g., Taiwan (1), India (17), Korea and Singapore (23), Japan (31), Kyrgyzstan (34), Hong Kong (37), Indonesia (41), Thailand (42)).

Asia in Global Open Data Index (http://index.okfn.org/place/)

In September of 2015, representatives from Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Philippines, and Indonesia gathered for the 1st Asia Pacific Open Data Summit (APODS) hosted by Taiwan at Taipei, to exchange experiences in developing open data and it’s applications. During the event the representatives announced the joint preparation of an Asia Open Data Partnership (AODP). Based on this partnership, members started to work together to raise the awareness of open data and it’s potential in innovative applications.

The 1st Asia Pacific Open Data Summit (http://opendata.tca.org.tw/)

Members started the collaboration with a cross country hackathon in August 2016. This hackathon involved three different countries—Taiwan, Thailand, and Indonesia—with a unique theme of open data-based innovation, and different application focus for each country.

Taiwan seeks to explore the benefits of open data in public service; while Thailand would like to provide more innovative agricultural solutions with open data; and Indonesia is working on addressing the problem of preservation of arts and culture through data-driven initiatives.

Following this hackathon, members and global experts gathered again on September 7-8, 2016, for the 2nd APODS, together with a AODP meeting hosted by Bangkok, Thailand. The highlight of this APODS is to promote, support, and utilize open data, information science, and communication technology in all sectors to thoroughly and effectively push forward the collective development in a wide variety of areas. This includes, for example: different disaster mitigation strategies, environmental protection, agricultural development, and smart cities.

The 2nd Asia Pacific Open Data Summit (https://www.ega.or.th/th/content/913/11563/)

Over the past year we have learned that while the vision of open data is well accepted in Asia, there still exists regional challenges that we must face. In the future, we expect to strengthen the collaboration between each other, which could, for example, involve the expansion of hackathons to include more countries.

Furthermore, efforts should go beyond simply the promotion of awareness, but should include more solid joint projects, such as a version of the open data index for this region. Most importantly, the open data community in this region must work to connect globally with other open data communities, to explore the potential and economic value of open data through a multilateral, cross-cultural, and collaborative approach.

Representatives from AODP and other Asian countries will meet up in the Regional Talk for Asia at IODC 2016, where we hope to explore and discuss what the next steps are for the open data agenda in this region.

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


Cover photo by Karan Thakkar

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