A guest post from Fabrizio Scrollini
Fabrizio Scrollini is the Research Coordinator of the Latin American Open Data Initiative. He is a PhD candidate at 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.
As the international open data charter gains momentum in the context of the wider development agenda related to the sustainable development goals set by the United Nations, a pertinent question to ask is: will open data policies contribute to solve development challenges? In this post I try to answer this question grounded in recent Latin American experience to contribute to a global debate.
Latin America has been exploring open data since 2013, when the first open data unconference (Abrelatam) and conference took place in Montevideo. In September 2015 in Santiago de Chile a vibrant community of activists, public servants, and entrepreneurs gathered in the third edition of Abrelatam and Condatos. It is now a more mature community. The days where it was sufficient to just open a few datasets and set up a portal are now gone. The focus of this meeting was on collaboration and use of data to address several social challenges.
Take for instance the health sector. Transparency in this sector is key to deliver better development goals. One of the panels at Condatos showed three different ways to use data to promote transparency and citizen empowerment in this sector. A tu servicio, a joint venture of DATA and the Uruguayan Ministry of Health helped to standardize and open public datasets that allowed around 30,000 users to improve the way they choose health providers. Government-civil society collaboration was crucial in this process in terms pooling resources and skills. The first prototype was only possible because some data was already open.
This contrasts with Cuidados Intensivos, a Peruvian endeavour aiming to provide key information about the health sector. Peruvian activists had to fill right to information requests, transform, and standardize data to eventually release it. Both experiences demanded a great deal of technical, policy, and communication craft. And both show the attitudes the public sector can take: either engaging or at the very best ignoring the potential of open data.
In the same sector look at a recent study dealing with Dengue and open data developed by our research initiative. If international organizations and countries were persuaded to adopt common standards for Dengue outbreaks, they could be potentially predicted if the right public data is available and standardized. Open data in this sector not only delivers accountability but also efficiency and foresight to allocate scarce resources.
Latin American countries – gathered in the open data group of the Red Gealc – acknowledge the increasing public value of open data. This group engaged constructively in Condatos with the principles enshrined in the charter and will foster the formalization of open data policies in the region. A data revolution won’t yield results if data is closed. When you open data you allow for several initiatives to emerge and show its value.
Once a certain level of maturity is reached in a particular sector, more than data is needed. Standards are crucial to ensure comparability and ease the collection, processing, and use of open government data. To foster and engage with open data users is also needed, as several strategies deployed by some Latin American cities show.
Coming back to our question: will open data policies contribute to solve development challenges? The Latin American experience shows evidence that it will. The road towards IODC 2014 in Madrid, Spain will need to have us discussing more about showing value and collaboration to use open government data towards solving development challenges. Data and standards are part of the core. But people, use, and policy are crucial to deliver the open data revolution across sectors.