Sunshine. Tapas. Open Data. These three things (not necessarily in that order) sum up the International Open Data Conference (IODC) that three members of the GovEx team recently attended. Open Data Director Andrew Nicklin, and Senior Implementation Advisors Rebecca Williams and Eric Reese got a chance to spend the week of October 3rd in Madrid talking all things open data with practitioners from around the world. Each offers his or her thoughts below on major takeaways from IODC 16, what to look for in the future from open data, and how you can get involved to advance open data practices in your community. You can also check out our thoughts on IODC 16 via our podcast recap!
I’ve been very focused on municipal open data in the US, so IODC 16 was a great moment to pause and see where the rest of the world is moving. The conference reminded me that for the developing world, much of the focus of open data seems to be sustainable development or identifying and eliminating corruption. There are also far greater opportunities for co-creation of meaningful data, since there is often less existing data or technology infrastructure. US cities, on the other hand, generally have large amounts of data. But globally, we all face the same challenge of organizing data, connecting it to objectives that are important to our communities, sharing it in support of meaningful discussion, and analyzing it to ensure that decisions are having the desired effects. On perhaps a significantly different note, there is a growing selection of data standards to work with, such as Open Contracting, IATI, and Open Referral, but a lot of work remains to help publishers and voluntary consensus bodies connect.
My major takeaway from IODC 16 was that although the open data movement is growing and becoming more cross-disciplinary, basic metrics about whether government open data programs are improving unencumbered access to public records are still few and far between. Some measures of open data progress still being touted have focused on the number of datasets provided on open data portals (an often changing and easily manipulated number that is not representative of access to information) or on impact examples resulting from access to that information (a category so broad that most reporting to this end, e.g., the 2013 McKinsey report and the Open Data 500, has relied on wide-ranging speculative examples with no replicable methodology). Indicators of demand such as freedom of information request data and web analytics as collected and published by the US Federal government and open data program progress as captured by San Francisco are not the norm worldwide and are ripe for replication.
In one phrase, “Bring the data to the people.” I attended a variety of awesome sessions, met a ton of interesting people, and was exposed to any number of innovative practices that could help advance the impact of open data. But across all these things, there was a need to find ways to bring open data to people where they are instead of asking them to come to our open data. This could be by integrating open data into existing apps, standardizing data across communities so people can interact with it more easily, or participating in conversations with communities on their terms around their data. Bringing data to the people improves engagement, builds trust, and provides opportunity for practical applications of open data that might otherwise be overlooked.
What’s Next for Open Data
It’s my hope that the movement will also develop clear and simple mechanisms to measure the impact that open data is having on our world. Perhaps more tactically, though: data standards. They are the key to make open data scale up, become sustainable, and increase in value. If the number of conversations on this topic at IODC are a signal of what’s to come, a future with open data standards is rapidly approaching.
Open data will get more nuanced within subject matter verticals, but also the notion of “right to know” will expand to demand governments openly measure things relevant to public policy. We’re already seeing it, but we see more subject matter specific open data initiatives (e.g., GODAN) and policies (e.g., the US’s federal spending DATA Act) and we’ll continue to broaden policy advocacy to not just be about access to government information already collected, but insisting data is collected to begin with, e.g., California’s new use of force data law. Similarly, there will be more nuanced advocacy fights around data collection and standards (balancing issues raised around privacy, accountability, interoperability, cost, and quality). Lastly, there will be a continued push for open algorithms (e.g., France’s OpenFisca).
Open data will cross more boundaries. Right now open data exists in silos, often related to subject area, data format, sector, specific localities… and the list goes on. As knowledge and more importantly use of open data expands, the walls that separate the open data silos will begin to fall. Nonprofits, governments, and private entities will begin to cooperate using open data to solve shared problems. Localities will continue to share best practices with one another, replicating approaches that work around the world. Researchers will begin to look across disciplines for good ideas using open data as a basis. And more people than ever will have access to open data, empowering them to take action to improve their communities.
How You Can Take Action
If you publish, consume, or advocate for open data, it’s time to start participating in voluntary consensus standards bodies. In the absence of a proper catalog of these standards (we’re working on it!), check out our list of civic data standards and related community contributions. Keep sharing stories about the impact which open data is having on people’s lives; even if they seem like old news to you, there are always new members of the movement who value those insights. Finally, remember that open data isn’t just for the public – governments benefit directly from it as well.
Whether you’re a government official or an open data advocate you should be demanding your local open data program collect and publish metrics related to government information access. In addition to the examples linked above, you can check out the GovEx’s Open Data: Measuring What Matters, Sunlight Foundation’s round up of open data progress reports, and the open source progress dashboards from San Francisco and the US Federal Government. Whether you’re a government official or an open data advocate you should become the open data expert in your niche issue area and call for relevant open data policies and standard practices in your city, here are a few subject areas in the US to get you inspired: Election Data, Campaign Finance Data, Geospatial Data, Housing Data, Legislative Data, Police Data, and Transit Data.
Take the good ideas of others and put them into practice in your community. For open data to have the greatest impact, we need to learn from one another and not reinvent the wheel each time we have a specific problem to solve. Copy the approach of Dublin and think about Smart Cities and Open Data together across a region. Repeat work in Edmonton that combines open data and analytics. Join networks with practitioners in your field and others to source good ideas. Don’t be afraid to ask us for help and check out the What Works Cities resources page for ideas that you can take right now.
Interested in learning more about IODC or just want to talk shop on data ? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to get the ball rolling.