With another Open Data Day behind us, it’s been incredible to witness the continued growth of open data in the United States and in countries around the world. More and more people understand the benefits of opening their government’s data and are working to increase access and use for the public good. Recently, we were lucky enough to travel to three different cities in Tunisia through a program run by the Financial Services Volunteer Corps to facilitate workshops on open data for both national and local governments (and of course to eat some delicious food).
Although the context in Tunisia is different from the US, there are many shared goals and interests in open data. Tunisia has been working on open government since 2014 when the country joined the Open Government Partnership. But 2017 was the first time open data actors in Tunisia really started digging into what open data and open government means at the local level. The workshops we helped lead were designed to facilitate conversations at the local level to start defining open data priorities and get started on open data in municipal governments.
The workshops included local government representatives, members of civil society organizations (CSOs) at both the national and local level, and representatives from the national government of Tunisia. Conversations centered around a few key questions: What is open data? What data should be released and what should be private? How can governments and civil society organizations work together to improve the lives of residents?
Our goals in these workshops were to define what open data means for municipalities in Tunisia and begin to brainstorm priorities and processes for opening up useful and relevant data to the public. Through the process we gathered these major takeaways:
- Target your discussion. Creating definitions and building shared understanding of terms, concepts, and goals are critical for making open data relevant for a variety of interested parties. Our workshops included representatives with differing interests who were grouped together to openly discuss goals and prioritize what they wanted from open data.
- Take your time in your conversations. As many participants told us with a smile, minutes are longer in Tunisia. They were exploring key issues and needed to take the time to understand each other and build relationships among people who were often meeting for the first time. Don’t rush through those conversations as they can be very useful in the long-run.
- Tap into the skills and positions of all organizations. When starting with open data from scratch, it can seem like there a million concerns to tackle all at once. But by breaking up roles and responsibilities based on the skills and resources of interested organizations, progress can be made quickly. Governments and civil society organizations have different roles and interests but sharing the burden and partnering on open data can be worthwhile for long-term sustainability and usefulness of open data.
Coming out of the workshops, there is much work to be done. But with continued dedication, partnership, and tangible next steps, Tunisian municipalities are primed to make open data a reality.