Let me start with brief introductions and explain the context I’m speaking from... My starting point is participation and civic engagement. Particularly starting in youth engagement 11 years ago as a 17 year old I was last here in Geneva: found blog post That led me onto exploring participation, and then e-participation. And being around a community of practitioners working on digital participation I was around as early open data ideas were being explored in the UK - and starting working on understanding the democratic impacts of open data as part of my Masters, and now PhD work. So - I’m talking about open data in the context of democratic engagement and participation: opening up processes of policy making and governance.
Before I go further I should define my terms: what do we mean by open data...
So - open data is data that is... ...but perhaps I should define terms further: what’s data, or at least, why is it important...
Data is a central component of modern institutions. James Beniger talks of the ‘control revolution’ from the mid 1800s as states sought to gather data in order to understand the increasingly complex societies they were seeking to govern... and this has played out at an international level too... Our global institutions run on data... ...measurement is part of their DNA: both because our technical capacity to measure has grown... ...and the complexity of our problems has grown. That’s not to say all decisions are data-driven: but once dialogue has taken place (hopefully with remote participation opportunities), and decisions are struck - it’s data that plays a key role in governing how they are implemented, monitoring compliance, and shaping strategies for putting agreements into practice.
From global warming targets...
...to aid pledges...
...to the millennium development goals
Data is central. But it often remains locked up inside organisations. So - what happens when it is opened up?
Opening data can supports transparency - allowing citizens to see how systems work. For example, Open Corporates has been using data from company registries to understand complex webs of company ownership - opening up complex systems to greater scrutiny. Transparency is often linked to accountability - although the later requires not just information, but also institutions and mechanisms that can sure accountability.
...creating tools for citizens to access government information in new ways.
As data is presented in ways more accessible to citizens - opening up the possibility for greater engagement in policy making. For example, in Nigeria, an independent start-up CSO BudgIT are using open data to ‘redefine participatory governance’ - actively disseminating information on the budget and seeking to engage citizens in the democratic process.
Initiatives like IATI which bring together data from many sources
This is not just read-only; citizen-generated open data is playing a powerful role too... ...the same forces of bandwidth and connectivity that lead to a collapse in government monopolies in interpreting data are also undermining the monopoly of governments as data collectors. Forms of participation that blur organisational boundaries - and allow active engagement of citizens, as parters. As sensors. In scrutiny. In shaping the representation of information.
So - on Saturday I tuned into a webcast from a pre-G8 event which emphasised the importance of data for dealing with key global challenges of aggressive tax avoidance and land grabs: announcing progress on automatic data exchange, greater transparency in land deals, and the development, in the UK, of a register of company beneficial owners. But, transparency requires co-ordination. Cameron only willing to open up beneficial ownership details if other countries will too. Risk that the exchange mechanisms will be closed for rich-countries only. Philippines calling for common database of tax identifiers: held by trusted international body.
The Open Government Partnership Focussing on securing national commitments to open data.
...and there are hundreds of national level projects across the world, plus n
For two reasons (1) is what David Robison and Harlan Yu have called the ‘ambiguity of open government’ - the fact that it is sold on the basis of dual benefits: democratic and economic impacts.
Government data has been called ‘the new oil’ - a raw material for economic activity... Photo credit: Some rights reserved by kenhodge13
...so apps that help us find trains or bus routes are framed as part of open government - that is - they are built upon governments opening up their data... ...but lots of such apps, however much revenue they generate or time they save citizens, don’t directly open up government decision making and implementation... although the same data could be used to scrutinise public services by checking delays data and using that in public meetings.
The second reason is that open data is not the same as open government is that open data alone doesn’t create the opportunity for the forms of two-way participatory dialogue that constitute fully open government and governance. That requires us to go a step further.
A lot of work has gone into building data portals: but often, much like remote participation opportunities - these are ‘bolted on’ to the side of organisations, rather than built in - changing the culture.
...and building datasets that can enable participation does take time, co-ordination and political effort. For example, the International Aid
Last week DFID launched their DevTracker platform built on top of their own open data - rather than it being an add-on
..and it pulls in data from partners. The next step is opening it up to greater citizen input.
But let’s go back to the open street map example - the more radical example of when government data becomes a shared resource...
So - in summary: - Open data is part of the international landscape - and a strategic tool of diplomacy - IOs have a lot of data to open, and are generally lagging behind governments - Opening data can support new forms of participation and collaboration - but that takes organisational change...
Introduce open dataExplore open data in governanceShare some examples of data in useConsider what it means for participation
Accessible on the webLicensed to allow re-useMachine-readable and ‘remixable’Data that is...
Image Credit: David Rumsey Historical Map Collection | Attributed Author: Gannett, Henry, 1846-1914; Hewes, Fletcher W.; United States. Census OfficeOur institutions run on data
Image credit: Figure 2.20 from the IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR) of 2001, showing hockey stick graph based on1999 reconstruction by Mann, Bradley and Hughes. (Source: Wikipedia)From global warming targets
Image from: http://www.globalhumanitarianassistance.org/country-profilesto aid pledges
Graphs from: http://unstats.un.org/unsd/mdg/Resources/Static/Products/Progress2012/GenderE.pdfto the millennium development goals
RecapData has always been part of how governance worksOpen data is emerging on the policy landscape changing the waydata can operate in governanceOpen data can be both a policy tool and a platform forengagementBut we’re just at the beginning...www.opendataresearch.orgwww.opendataimpacts.net@odrnetwork@timdavies