A guest post from Liz Carolan of the Open Data Institute.
As part of our work at Open Data Institute my colleagues and I have the privilege of meeting with exceptional government leaders from around the world who promote open data’s benefits in their countries and regions.
Open data is still a new and emerging area, and in many ways its leaders are like public sector entrepreneurs pioneering new ideas in contexts of rather pronounced uncertainty. At the ODI we see innovation and experimentation in different parts of the world, with people working out ways to make open data a reality, from Mexico to Moldova.
For them as much as for us, open data is all about change. Change in the way governments work, in the way they interact with the outside world, in the way they think about providing services and information to citizens. This new world order requires new kinds of leadership, and it is striking how much networked thinking is at its core.
As we wrote last year, open data stewardship requires plenty of the traditional skills and aptitudes of a change leader: the ability to set clear a vision, to build coalitions for change, to balance quick wins with long term consolidation.
But many of the changes that accompany the shift to open data also require leaders to have the readiness and aptitude to engage with the world in a different way. Success for an open data initiative depends in large part on its leaders getting outside their offices to build bridges and connections. This is where the concept of “networked leadership” is a helpful addition to the classic set of leadership skills; a mindset that involves working in more connected ways, achieving things through shared ideas, information, and contacts.
Many civil services and politicians think of their role as protectors of data, keeping it hidden from public view in a culture of data classification and retention. There are of course many types of data which should be kept secure and closed, as this video demonstrates. Yet the challenge for leaders is to push towards a culture of government as a custodian of data which is mostly published openly, and of data as another public good which others can use to have social, environmental or economic impact. This necessarily requires proactive engagement and working across government, sharing ideas with and inspiring individuals in different agencies and professions.
We know that leaders of open data in government should ensure that they engage with those outside of government to develop a sustainable open data initiative in their country or region. Successful initiatives are ones that have engaged communities inside and outside government analysing, using and building things with open data: using it to develop new businesses, combat environmental challenges or benefit society in other ways. They can be businesses, non-governmental organisations, research institutions and individuals.
This broad open data ecosystem is international by its nature. Open data leaders recognise that by virtue being free for anyone to access, use and share, open data’s sources and benefits transcend national boundaries – much like the web itself.
Their experiences and insights can help inspire others – it is in this context that networked leadership is most needed. That is why at ODI we have developed an Open Data Leaders Network to provide a space for peer learning, training and reflection among open data leaders, and will host a similarly themed broader Leaders’ Summit alongside the International Open Data Conference (IODC).
The best open data leaders we have met go beyond engaging with these communities, and actively enable a whole ecosystem using networked leadership skills and shared problem solving. We believe that providing space for peer learning and exchange is a way to ensure that the public sector entrepreneurs overseeing the emergence of open data ecosystems are empowered to drive the changes needed in their countries.
During our session on leadership at the IODC, we will be posing questions on the leadership skills and styles needed in government in the context of the changes needed for open data to fulfil its promise, as well as exploring the ideas of networks as a means of building and sharing these skills.
Join us, or comment below to share your view!