A guest post from Mélanie Brunet and Lynne McAvoy about the Open Data Charter plenary at IODC15.
Despite the increasing number of open data initiatives around the world, the challenge of doing open data well remains. How can sectors and countries with various experiences and capacities come together to follow common principles?
The Open Data Charter, currently under development, is being touted as a step in the right direction. At the 3rd International Open Data Conference 2015 (#iodc15) in late May, four presenters from governments and multilateral organizations shared their experience drafting these common principles. Mexico’s Ania Calderón outlined the necessity of the Open Data Charter in order for governments and civil society to create policies-based evidence, not intuition, and to break silos across different data lifecycles. This set of principles will facilitate communication among various sectors and act as a platform for collaboration, leading to a more efficient delivery of new solutions to old problems.
Paul Zeitz, Senior Advisor to the U.S. Department of State, qualified open data as the “revolution of our lifetime”. He referred to the case for sustainable control of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which is impossible without sharing and harnessing data, which remained closed until recently. Zeitz argued that open data is about trust, innovation, mutual accountability and efficiency, and a Charter would be the first step in enhancing collaboration among sectoral communities and the open data community more generally.
Announcing the launch the Open Data Charter’s new website to engage participants in a more inclusive consultation process, Canada’s Stephen Walker described it as a universal translator to provide a common language of commitment for various jurisdictions who engage with open data. For those who have not started yet, the Charter could work as foundational declaration of commitment and a means to pursue the necessary political support.
In addition to outlining common principles, the Charter will be accompanied by documents and tools to help countries deliver on their commitment. This initiative got its momentum from the G20’s focus on anti-corruption, the principles are ambitious, and the language is specific, yet the Charter is broad enough to apply globally to different situations.
With its emphasis on inclusiveness, the conversation around the Open Data Charter needs to include organizations and countries from the Global South in order to reflect a diversity of expertise. For example, cell phones are ubiquitous in Africa, where the data revolution is leapfrogging over landlines and computers, which is distinct from the North American and European experience. It is essential to deliver on priorities identified by communities, including which data are deemed most useful.
But will these principles be applicable beyond government and civil society? All presenters agreed on the need to push open data principles outside the public sector, but acknowledged that the idea of data as a common good does not have much traction in private companies. However, Zeitz argued that post-MDGs, humanitarian principles should be at the core of the private sector. Calderón added that it is actually in companies’ interest to adhere to the principles of the Open Data Charter since it can actually help improve the way they function and relate to their customers, in addition to exercising “data philanthropy”.
You can share your thoughts on the draft Open Data Charter until the end of the month at www.opendatacharter.net