By Katie Clancy
A full four years after the emergence of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in 2011, the dialogues have changed. Over 1,900 people converged in Mexico City to discuss, measure, and understand Open Government, including representatives from over 66 national governments and civil society groups from around the world – with a particular focus on the links between the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and the OGP. The diversity in the crowds ensured that many of the panels, activities, and workshops contained lively debate about the meaning of openness, the importance of freedom of information, and how to move forward to ensure we are connecting things like open data with changes to people’s’ everyday lives. Summit-goers also widely promoted the importance of adopting a critical perspective on openness – of examining and acknowledging what is and isn’t working. The summit was widely acknowledged for bringing additional breadth and depth to open topics.
Defining What Open Data Is and Isn’t
At the 2015 International Open Data Conference (IODC15), the Open Data Charter was officially launched for consultation in an effort to come to a common understanding of what open data is – and how to use it to improve people’s’ lives. At the OGP closing ceremonies, the six principles of the charter were officially adopted by 17 governments, and endorsed by countless organizations. The IODC15 made it clear that collaboration over platforms and policies will be essential to realizing the promises of open data – and that open data is truly about the people that use and benefit from that data.
“We’re not a startup. This is about the commons”: Understanding the Challenges of the Open Data Movement
— Tim Davies (@timdavies) October 29, 2015
— opendatacon (@opendatacon) October 29, 2015
— opendatacon (@opendatacon) October 29, 2015
The Open Data for Development Program, one of the permanent co-hosts of the IODC16, hosted a workshop on what’s next for open data. The workshop, which engaged some key figures in the open data space, quickly went over what had come before (i.e., from “your data, NOW” to bridging communities and creating common principles and standards) and asked some important questions about the biggest challenges faced by the community. For example: should open data still be a “big tent” topic that continues to bridge sectors, or will it start to become more sector-based? Where does the commons fit into all of this? How do we guide governments whose interest is surging in open data to best practices? And for those who have not yet caught the open data bug, how can we bring policy makers who don’t believe it is a “sexy topic” to the table? How do we focus on sustainable economic development through data?
While there are still a lot of questions on the table, these important debates will help to shape the upcoming IODC16 in Madrid, Spain. For example, the importance of leaving no one behind will be critical to the future of open data initiatives – we need to invest in building data communities globally, and in connecting with ordinary people. We need to invest in the infrastructure needed to ensure that we can run and scale all of the great open data initiatives that are emerging. Panellists reinforced an important lesson: we are doing this for the public good. There is space for all actors, including governments, civil society, and the private sector to participate – but it needs to be collaborative and commons based. Citizens will be the ones driving their own empowerment and participation.
Linking Openness and Freedom of Information
We all agree that access to knowledge is central to empowering citizens around the world. But how this knowledge is shared – the forms it takes and the freedom and accessibility of those forms is also critical in realizing openness.
A critical debate that wove through the entire week of the OGP summit was the importance of freedom of information, and how it is not enough to just open information such as data – there must be freedom of information as well. And the reality is that there are already so many communities working towards the end goal – information as empowerment – but we all need to join together to collaboratively move forward to realize the end goal: oversight, accountability, and transparency, and in the end – how people live. This important information can also be used to promote economic benefit within countries – making it essential to work together to further these goals.
Evolving the Conversation
The Open Government Partnership will continue to be an important space for moving governments towards a new way of engaging – openly, transparently, and accountably – with their citizens. The summit proved that a broad agenda is possible – including engaging different actors, and facilitating a space for them to come to work together on new initiatives and ideas. The next summit will be in two years’ time. In the lead-up to that time, the 4th International Open Data Conference will be held in Madrid – and will seek to help bring good practice into being – and support the scaling of new efforts.