Open Data Research (South)


In just a few years, a substantial movement has emerged around the potential of Open Government Data (OGD). It is usually promised that OGD initiatives will have substantial political, social and economic impacts and benefits such as increased government transparency, increased citizen participation, opening new business opportunities, and providing an important input into innovation. These promises are bringing a large number of actors to this incipient but fast growing movement. There is a growing community of developers of applications that use OGD that is quickly expanding beyond the developed world. Many start-ups, traditional Internet companies, and media outlets are experimenting and developing new applications and services, adding value to available data.

Expected Outcomes

The aim of this project is to develop a Southern-led research agenda and network on exploring Open Government Data from critical and empirical perspectives. This will be done through the coordination of a workshop and a preparatory meeting of experts, and the development of a roadmap to achieve such goals.


The study of Open Government Data policies has been, up to this point, a cross-topic of interest that has been addressed through a wide variety of perspectives including freedom of information, copyright, public management, national security, international relations, political philosophy and computer science. Due to this variety, ‘experts’ in the field are also diverse and tend to add value from the basis of their own grounds of expertise. Even though it is because of diversity that OGD has captured the interest of many fields of research and experts, the same positive characteristic may turn to be a constraint in terms of assessing the questions of impact within a diverse group of experts. It is natural that each one of them will likely address the questions of OGD from their own lens of expertise, reason why, it is particularly important to curate the debate in a way to receive diverse inputs, but also build the necessary agreements to advance a research agenda.

Little systematic and empirical research on the impact of Open Data has occurred to date, and no more so has been discussed as to how to empirically measure these important transformations. Furthermore, there are significant risks to marginalized communities that can be exacerbated by emerging practices if the necessary, initial research is not done. Thus, while recognizing the potential of the OGD movement to achieve a range of democratic and developmental outcomes, research must play an important role in guiding future investments on OGD initiatives in order to harness its full potential and mitigate potential, unintended negative effects.

IDRC had started in mid 2011 the project “Open Data for Public Policy in Latin America and the Caribbean” project and a connection to the Berkman Center already existed. As part of its own Open Data research agenda, the Web Foundation engaged in discussions with IDRC at the end of 2011 about this topic.


This project will convene a community of researchers and practitioners to think about how to assess whether and how OGD initiatives and projects are realizing their promises. This network is tasked with developing the appropriate research questions, and designing and developing a research plan to uncover whether OGD is achieving the positive results that justify its activities.


  • Experts meeting in Brasilia, Brazil, 16 April 2012
  • Public side panel at the Open Government Partnership annual event, Brasilia, Brazil, 18 April 2012
  • Workshop at the Berkman Center at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA, October 2012 (tbd)
    • Call for papers to be released at least 4 weeks in advance of the workshop
  • Publication of workshop conclusions/report/roadmap, October/November 2012 (tbd)

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