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Open for good: Three things we’ll be looking out for in Ottawa

Web Foundation · May 25, 2015

This week sees the International Open Data Conference (IODC) take place in Ottawa. With over 2000 registered attendees, it is set to become the largest gathering of the open data community yet, and one we’re proud to have played a part in organising. Our open data team will be out in force – at the pre-events, during the Unconferences, and at the main conference itself, between us we will be speaking on at least ten panels, on topics such as the emerging impacts of open data, to right to data, and the data revolution.

So what are the key outcomes we’re looking out for in Ottawa?

1) Making the data revolution an open data revolution – with citizens at the core

In August 2014, an Independent Advisory Group to the UN began work on the contribution of data for development. The final Data Revolution report was published in November 2014 and has helped to spark an exciting movement to close the world’s growing data divides. While the report recognised the importance of open data – to contribute to economic and social development – the messaging is weighted towards openness as an (optional) good practice. An important breakthrough was achieved when in March 2015, African governments and CSOs declared the need for government data to be open by default, in the Africa Data Consensus, which was subsequently endorsed by the African Union.

But do governments understand what this means? Is the international community listening to Africa’s message, and will they back it with resources? Will the Ottawa conference send a strong signal to finance ministers (meeting at the Financing for Development Summit in July) and heads of state (gathering to agree Sustainable Development Goals in September) that in order to benefit citizens and change lives, the Data Revolution must be an Open Data Revolution? José M. Alonso will be discussing this on the “Will the revolution be open?” panel on Friday May 29th.

2) Moving from portals to impact

Impact is what many of us are asking about in open data. After millions of dollars of investment in portals, standards, readiness assessments – some would say we are no closer to truly understanding the use – and the impact – of open data. Some questions to ask here are: What do we mean by impact? What goals do we want to achieve? How can we build on the areas where early success has been achieved (such as economic growth), and accelerate progress in areas where results to date have been less strong (such as improved political accountability)?

At both our recent Asia and Africa regional Agenda Setting workshops, the message from participants was clear – an open data revolution requires more than governments setting up portals. We need to experiment with bottom-up approaches that build capacity of all stakeholders to apply open data to real problems. Through our Open Data in Developing Countries research as well as the Jakarta Labs incubated by the Web Foundation, we have shared great experiences, for example the building of BudgIt in Nigeria, or raising awareness and training regional government officers in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, on freedom of information – to mention just a couple. Such innovations will also be at the heart of the third phase of our Open Data in Developing Countries research and we look forward to hearing other ideas in Ottawa and brainstorming for the future together. We’ll be discussing all these at the UnConference, at the Research Symposium and the “emerging impacts” panel on Thursday 28th May.

To enhance impact, we also need to be able to understand and measure it. When trying to assess something complex, the obvious starting point is to measure what you can easily observe: how many datasets are open, the establishment of a portal in a country, the number of civil servants trained in open data and so on. While these facts provide an indispensable baseline, on their own they are not enough to allow us to understand or improve impact. The Web Foundation’s Open Data Barometer pioneered the use of indicators of impact alongside indicators of readiness and implementation. Others, like the Sunlight Foundation in their recent study, are also beginning to focus more on impacts.

A diversity of efforts is necessary and welcome. Yet, because assessing impact is so complicated, common benchmarks and methods are key to enable comparison across different studies and different countries. At IODC, we’re hoping that all stakeholders will get behind the need for a shared framework to assess the different dimensions of open data success. We’ll debate this in the session on measuring open data impacts, led by the Web Foundation’s Carlos Iglesias, on Friday May 29. Other impact-focused sessions will include “open data around the world” (on Thursday May 28 with Web Foundation Board member Sam Pitroda on the panel). There will also be separate sectoral sessions (e.g. agriculture, education, health and so on) where no doubt we will unpack impact in these specific areas.

3) Locking in political commitment

We have seen the emergence of various sets of principles and guidelines in the open data space during the last eight years, notably including the G8 Open Data Charter and the Global Open Data Initiative Declaration. Inspired by this work, the open data working group of the OGP, co-chaired by the Web Foundation, have developed a common set of open data principles. In order to make sure that open data doesn’t become just another development fad, such principles need recognition and endorsement from a wide range of countries and at the highest level of government. That’s why the Web Foundation will be pushing for IODC to agree on the development of a truly global open data charter. If drafted in an inclusive and participatory manner, such a charter will help to lock in political commitment, establish a continuing say for all stakeholders in the evolution of open data, and entrench minimum standards that reduce the risk of “open-washing”.

This exciting topic will be discussed in the “Delivering the Open Data Charter” panel on Friday 29 May.

In conclusion…

The field is moving so fast – a year or two ago, we could not even have imagined an international open data conference with so many participants. The IODC is a great opportunity. An opportunity to stop, take a breath and take stock of all that is going on around the world and listen to other experiences – success, failures, ongoing challenges – all of it. Let’s be open about sharing first. Then, we need to ask questions about scalability and sustainability. How do we make sure open data is not a fad, and becomes entrenched in culture – whether that is for governments, CSOs, citizens, journalists? We should never take our eyes off the goal – data is the means to the end of development – and open data brings the citizen one step closer in the process of participation, with the potential to contribute to increased transparency, accountability, and the Web Foundation’s aim of building a “just and thriving society”.

Note: The Web Foundation and/or Jakarta Labs will be at the following sessions of the main IODC. For any questions, please email

Thursday, May 28 • 09:30 – 10:30

Open Data Around The World / Les données ouvertes autours du monde (Sam Pitroda, WF board member)

Thursday, May 28 • 11:00 – 12:15

The Emerging Impact of Open Data / Le nouvel impact des données ouvertes

Thursday, May 28 • 11:00 – 12:15

Data + Public Money / Données + argent public

Thursday, May 28 • 11:00 – 12:15

Toward Global Open Data Principles / Vers des principes de données ouvertes à l’échelle mondiale

Thursday, May 28 • 13:30 – 14:30

Why We Need Global Open Data Standards / Pourquoi il faut des normes internationales sur les données ouvertes

Friday, May 29 • 08:30 – 10:00

Data Revolution: Will the Revolution be Open? / Révolution des données : La révolution sera-t-elle ouverte ?

Friday, May 29 • 10:30 – 12:00

Open data + Right to Information = Right to Data / Données ouvertes + droit à l’information = droit aux données

Friday, May 29 • 10:30 – 12:00

Delivering the International Open Data Charter / Présenter la charte internationale des données ouvertes

Friday, May 29 • 10:30 – 12:00

Capacity Building for All / Enrichissement de la capacité pour tous

Friday, May 29 • 13:30 – 15:00

Measuring Open Data Impacts / Mesurer les effets des données ouvertes

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