The new Open Government Partnership Open Data Working Group

Governments are increasingly creating new open data initiatives and they are the most popular Open Government Partnership commitment so far. Still, the potential of Open Data and its implications for governance are only starting to be articulated.

The mission of the OGP Open Data Working Group is to hold the promise of radically transforming the way government and societies work together to analyze and solve challenges; helping OGP governments implement their commitments and develop more ambitious and innovative action plans related to open data.

Open Government Partnership

More specifically, the new Open Data Working Group aims to:

  • Serve as a guiding voice on open data issues to help OGP governments implement their action plans and develop ambitious new commitments.
  • Increase awareness of open government data issues across the OGP.
  • Amplify and broaden the evidence base for open data reforms.
  • Gather and strengthen existing resources.
  • Engage with the broader global open data community.

Participation in the group is open to all OGP countries and civil society organizations working on open data issues. I was invited to participate on behalf of OpenKratio, a citizens’ group that promote Open Government and Open Data values within the society and the only Spanish representation in the group so far.

The working group first convened on the side of the OGP Summit in London last October. Topics that were discussed during the meeting included:

  1. Open Data measurement – the need to better understand the impacts of open data.
  2. Capacity building – what’s yet to be done and were are the gaps.
  3. Data standards – how to cross-link between information silos to achieve greater impact.
  4. Developing and implementing stronger open data commitments – is there a need for a common set of principles?

There was also a formal launch in a public event as part of the really interesting OGP summit general agenda, which included several high-level participants from governments and civil society, such as Tim Berners-Lee (Founding Director of the Web Foundation; President and Co-Founder of the Open Data Institute) and Beth Noveck (Professor of The Gov Lab, New York University).

This panel explored the current reality of open data implementation, drawing upon early findings from the Open Data Barometer study, and how to move faster to close the gap between rhetoric and reality to unlock the real potential of open data.

The group is currently working on a more specific concept note that will drive the group work in the future on the basis of the feedback and input from the first meeting. Stay tuned for the next steps of the Group during the following months.

Building the foundation for an Open Data Directory

This post was first published at the ePSI Platform and the Open Knowledge Foundation blog.

Open (Government) Data as it is understood nowadays can still be considered a new concept. It started to gain traction worldwide since the Obama memo in early 2009 and the launch of a few months later. Following successful leading examples of the US and UK governments we have seen Open Data flourishing all over the world over the last three years. More than two hundred Open Data catalogs have been identified so far.

But still, it’s not always clear how to deliver good solutions and many questions remain unanswered. In order to build sustainable Open Data initiatives in a varied range of countries a broader view to address challenges is needed. New and existing initiatives willbenefit from shared knowledge and will also produce a range of resources that should be published in a freely and open way for others to reuse.

As the Open Data movement is growing worldwide; the number of available resources is also increasing. The scarcity of only 3-4 years ago is ending but the resources are appearing in disparate places and formats, sometimes difficult to find and share. There is a pressing need to compile and document existing resources that are verified, trustworthy, comparable, and searchable.

The Open Data Directory

Upon discussions with many in the Open Data community, an initial analysis of their own project needs and preliminary research on existing public resources, the Web Foundation believes that the community at large would benefit from a central entry point to Open Data related resources at a neutral source, the Open Data Directory (ODD).

This ODD will help to produce clear evidence base of the benefits of Open Data holding a wide range of resources types such as: use cases, case studies, stories and anecdotes, methodologies, strategies, business cases, papers, reports, articles, blog posts, training materials, slide sets, software tools, applications andvisualisations. The directory will not focus on compiling a vast number of references, instead it will give priority to high-quality references endorsed by the Open Data community.

As a first step towards the ODD, we are making public the Use Cases and Requirements Draft in order to get comments from the wide community, not only on the content of the document itself but also on the overall idea of the ODD. We’ve published it as a Google Document with comments turned on. This is a tool for you, the Open Data community, so suggestions, feedback and comments are very welcome. The extended deadline for submitting comments is: April 29th, 2013.

How Open Data can contribute to a better world for everyone?

In 2000 world leaders agree on eight goals to eradicate extreme poverty. Important progress has been made so far, but there is still a lot to be done and that goals expire in 2015.

The eight millenium development goals

Now it is time to raise your voice and vote for the changes you think could make the most difference to our world, and I warn you this is not going to be easy. You will need to put yourself in the place of those that have nothing and choose just six among a series of basic needs such as:

  • Political freedoms.
  • Protection against crime and violence.
  • Affordable and nutritious food.
  • Better healthcare.
  • Reliable energy at home.
  • A good education.
  • Access to clean water and sanitation.
  • Support for people who can’t work.
  • And several more.

Definitively not easy, is it? But, almost as difficult as choosing the right goals, is to find adequate measures that will mark progress toward them, and it is there where Open Data can also play a key role on improving the human condition.

Visualization of the Millenium Development Goals with Gapminder

Data is critical to decide which approaches are working and which ones do not. Once you have a robust commitment to data-gathering and sharing in place, you will be able to drive change. You will see which countries are being successful in reaching their goals and why, using that observations to help other countries to do the same and, at the same time, forcing those who are falling behind to focus more resources and attention on the problem than they would have done without open data.

The next OGD frontier: Low and middle income countries

This post was first published at the OKFN blog in collaboration with Aman Grewal from the World Wide Web Foundation.

Last year we witnessed an impressive expansion of Open Government Data initiatives all around the world. We can assert without any doubt that it was clearly the year when Open Government spread throughout the world.

However, if we look at the map of the Open Government Data initiatives worldwide, we immediately detect than almost all of these initiatives incubated around Western Europe and North America. There is a big gap in the map, especially with reference to the developing countries.

The Challenge

Given the very apparent benefits of Open Government Data programmes, it is important to consider the development of similar programmes all over the world, and particularly in low and middle-income countries. But first, we need to go one step back and ask ourselves how we analyse whether a given country is ready to engage and sustain an OGD programme, and how much we know from existing initiatives.

The World Wide Web Foundation and CTIC Foundation took the first steps in this direction by conducting an assessment of the feasibility and potential of an OGD program in two countries – Chile and Ghana.

The key questions were:

  • Is the country ready to engage in an OGD initiative?
  • If so, what support might they need?
  • If not, why not, and what lesson can we take away from this assessment?

But while we were trying to give answers to these questions, new important questions arose:

  • What pre-conditions exist?
  • How much of what we know from existing initiatives is applicable?
  • What are the indicators that will enable the definition of OGD readiness in a given country?

We decided to start by developing a new methodology for OGD readiness assessment, based on our experience and a previous study commissioned by the Transparency and Accountability Initiative and written by Becky Hogge from early 2010. For the assessment completion, we developed a questionnaire and conducted desk research and country visits to interview people and organisations that may be key to any future success.

The findings from the studies have enabled us to start a global debate that we aim to carry forward.

Chile use case

Chile has always been a prosperous country and has long played a leadership role in Latin America. Now, more than ever, it has a government capable of decisively delivering on its vision and related governance schemes.

In the case of Chile, the political momentum is clearly present, and there are perceived interests and needs. Governmental willingness to adopt an OGD initiative is very clear at the executive layer and extends to the middle layer. In addition, the first strategic steps towards OGD are being taken, and pioneering pilot initiatives on information openness in Public Administration have been implemented. There are also several reuse initiatives being carried out by groups of civil hackers.

Nevertheless, Chile needs to establish an institutional roadmap related to OGD, putting in place all the regulations that are needed for implementation and developing a common methodology for Open Data, selecting and adopting open standard formats for data to facilitate reuse.

A good start is the recent incorporation of OGD as one of the key objectives of Chile’s digital agenda, but they still need to improve the means, processes and channels used to disseminate information and centralize access to a single common point or nodal agency. Finally, a dialogue on information sharing between the administration, civil society and the private sector should also be initiated with the objective of increasing awareness of reuse initiatives promoted by enthusiastic civil society groups.

We came to the conclusion that Open Government Data initiatives in Chile should rely on the transparency community, a very active group that would strongly support any initiative taken in favour of information openness.

Ghana use case

In terms of democracy, Ghana is one of the top few countries in Africa. For the common citizen, there is no apparent lack of respect for the democratic set-up, though there seems to be a trust deficit with respect to the politicians, either in power or in the opposition.

The required regulatory framework for an Open Data strategy is not currently present in the law, but is a work in progress. The RTI Act has been discussed since 2000 and its approval is imminent. However it has taken many years of study and the current draft has provisions for a number of exceptions. This has created friction in its smooth passage resulting in a number of revisions and subsequent delay. The RTI Act cannot exist in isolation and requires a supporting legal framework of data privacy and intellectual property. This work is still in its early stages and further advances can be expected in the short or medium term only if the RTI Act sees the light of day.

Civil society organizations in Ghana are very active in highlighting these issues and have become more vocal ever since oil reserves were found on a substantially large scale. They believe that this is the right opportunity for OGD initiatives that will not only improve the perception of a clean government in the minds of ordinary citizens, but would also strengthen the overall notion of a strong and transparent democracy. It would give them the right set of legal and technical knowledge to avoid the “oil curse”, which they are keen to avoid at any cost.

The opportunity here is two-fold. The RTI Act may give the much-needed legal framework for civil servants that would enable them to answer the data requests in a defined process. Simultaneously technology and implementation support with respect to the open interoperability framework would provide a much needed standardization platform to the apex IT agency of the country, a critical area where they are already soliciting support from external agencies. Civil society organizations like the Population Council are already running initiatives in few African countries related to data (demographic in this case) reuse by third parties that can act as examples and guideposts for OGD initiatives.

The case of Ghana has its own set of challenges and the situation may not be ideal. In such a scenario the groundwork to bootstrap OGD initiatives would be tougher, but at the same time the potential global impact would also be significant.

As Tim Berners-Lee observed, “It has to start at the top, it has to start in the middle and it has to start at the bottom.”

Make your contribution

We are publishing the draft versions of both the reports. Our objective is to gather comments from the OGD community. We invite you to read the reports for Chile and Ghana and send in your comments before the end of March 2011.

Your comments will assist the growing OGD community in the developing world by providing new tools, best practices and support.