One could easily make the case that all is rosy in the Open Data world. The number of open data initiatives has grown from two to over 300 in just four years, whilst the most notable initiative to open up governments worldwide, the Open Government Partnership (OGP), has seen membership rocket from eight to 59 countries in under two years. Over a million datasets have now been released by governments around the world, spawning new businesses and fascinating social projects such as Openspending.org. In recent months, we have seen the Open Data movement being linked to the Big Data one with corporations being asked to open their datasets for social good. This is impressive progress by anyone’s standards – particularly for a subject that was the preserve of just a few geeks as recently as 2009.
But – behind closed doors – politicians, civil society leaders and open data advocates are fretting over Open Data’s future. Put simply, many feel that Open Data is not living up to its true potential. They argue that more could – and should – be done to help governments and citizens collaborate to tackle social challenges and enhance democracy. Some fear that unless Open Data proves its ability to deliver true social benefits in diverse countries and regions, it risks becoming another fad. The most critical suggest that the warning signs are already there – anecdotal reports indicate that some previously popular Open Data portals are now seeing slow days and decreased usage.
So what needs to change to ensure the Open Data movement delivers transformative change that truly benefits humanity? We’d suggest that the answer is two-fold.
First, Open Data needs to be joined by a commitment to transparency and accountability at the core of Open Government initiatives. With this in mind, governments must set themselves harder goals, and civil society must ask tougher questions. Releasing data for the sake of releasing it is not enough anymore. We need to raise the bar.
Alongside this more integrated outlook, execution standards must change. Many current government initiatives center on a single dimension – the technical. Yet technical innovation and efficiency can only go so far. To build vibrant, dynamic and locally sustainable ecosystems, a much broader focus is needed, arguably including up to six dimensions. Open Data is the most popular commitment in OGP action plans, yet to date there is very little understanding of what truly constitutes a successful Open Data programme, particularly in the developing world. This needs to be addressed – there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ model.
Achieving these shifts will require concerted, co-ordinated effort. At the Web Foundation, we believe strongly in the transformative potential of Open Data when allied with a true commitment to transparency and accountability. This is why we’re pleased to announce that we have become one of the founding partners of the Global Open Data Initiative (GODI), along with Fundar, the Open Institute, the Open Knowledge Foundation and the Sunlight Foundation.
GODI will be a champion for Open Data globally – sharing successes and failures and providing practical support. We will work particularly closely with civil society organisations – helping them to understand the problems that Open Data could help to tackle and ‘what good looks like’ from government. Our long-term vision is that the production and promotion of a unified set of guidelines will assist governments to build, and civil society to advocate, vibrant and robust systems that maximise the potential benefits of open data for enhanced transparency and accountability; for effective service delivery; and for economic growth.
You can read more about GODI at: http://globalopendatainitiative.org/