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Embedding Open Data Practice

August 31, 2015

This paper is final of four in our second phase of research on Open Data in Developing Countries. These projects show the social, political and legal sides of open data that are too often overshadowed by the technical aspects in the debate. For an overview of the project please see our blog.


This research formed part of the Emerging Impacts of Open Data in Developing Countries Phase 2 project, and was titled “Embedding Open Data Practice: Developing indicators on the institutionalisation of open data practice in two African governments”. The motivation for conducting the research was that insufficient attention has been paid to the institutional dynamics within governments and how these may be impeding open data practice.

In order to address the question of whether open data practice is being embedded, the project undertook a comparison of government open data in South Africa and Kenya. In developing open data indicators to measure how embedded open data practice is, the research team chose to focus on open licensing because they considered it to be a key indicator of openness. The act of assigning an open licence not only indicates an understanding of what constitutes open data, but it also indicates that organisational actors have come to terms with and accepted the consequences of data being reused without restriction. The research did not restrict its investigation to high-level commitments or policies but examined aspects of licensing at multiple levels of government. This approach echoes Tim Berners-Lee’s assertion that change ‘has to start at the top, it has to start in the middle and it has to start at the bottom’.

Project findings suggest that there is a complex interplay (and, at times, conflict) between the various organisational levels of government. There are clearly still tensions to resolve in terms of reconciling the multiplicity of values and norms across the organisational levels that make up governments.

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This project is supported by the Open Data for Development (OD4D) program, a partnership funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the World Bank, United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), and Global Affairs Canada (GAC).