Future-proofing principles

What we heard from the 2018 ODCrefresh process and what comes next

NASA Insight solar array panel Image credit: Lockheed Martin Space

by Ania Calderon

When the Open Data Charter was drafted in 2015, it was launched with a commitment to remain at the cutting-edge of developments and the highest normative standard in the field. This was to be achieved through periodic reviews and public consultations on the lessons learnt of implementing the Charter principles in this fast-evolving space to ensure that they continue to remain relevant and timely.

Our first revision process was launched this 2018 and resulted in a renewed energy and engagements around the Charter principles — gathering over 600 inputs from diverse regions, 30 expert reviewers and over 60 participants in a workshop at the 2018 International Open Data Conference in Argentina, including from adopter governments and newcomers to the Charter’s community.

This #ODCrefresh process comprised of three stages:

1. A global consultation phase to retrieve feedback from stakeholders around the world through an open survey, targeted interviews and two focus groups (May — July 2018);

2. An analysis and reflections phase in which consultation responses were organised and analysed by three Expert Groups and at a workshop at IODC (July — November 2018);

3. A consolidation and engagement phase where a set of proposals for refreshing the Charter are presented to our Advisory Board to decide on any changes needed and adopting governments are engaged (November 2018 — April 2019).

Issue summaries

The consultation surfaced new ideas for how the Principles can help shape policies and programmes to achieve greater impact. It centred on three themes that capture a range of issues currently faced by many in the field:

  • Open by default: Structural changes needed across the whole of government to establish a culture and practice of data openness (Principle 1).
  • Data infrastructure: Investments in technical infrastructure, organisational practices and capacity building to sustain sound data management (Principle 2, 3, 4).
  • Publishing with purpose: Moving away from a ‘publish and they will come’ approach towards more intentional data prioritisation based on the needs of key constituents, careful problem definitions and genuine user engagement (Principles 5 and 6).
The first thing to note is that there were no major calls for principles to be removed altogether, and broad agreement that they were, by and large, fit for purpose.

Nonetheless, the following emerged as issues that should be addressed (see this record for further details):

Open by Default:

  • The meaning of “Open by Default” is unclear, while there was strong support for maintaining this aspiration as a core value some believe that Open by Design or As Open As Possible would be more useful.
  • Although it is mentioned in the existing text, it was felt by some that there is not enough emphasis placed on privacy. There was an almost 50/50 split on whether or not a new principle on data privacy is needed.
  • Some believe explicit reference should be made about how to address emerging issues around the use of open data to feed AI systems, while others consider the Charter should remain technology-agnostic/neutral.

Data Infrastructure:

  • The structure and order of Principles 2–4 was discussed, with some wanting to include language around assessing risks relating to privacy, intellectual property, proprietary issues and public safety.
  • There was considerable backing for incorporating a data governance and data management approach as an overarching framing for Principles 2–4. to better reflect where and how ‘openness’ can play a role across data lifecycles and with a whole-of-government response.
  • It was suggested to consider incorporating language around the need for sufficient resources to be allocated, including investments in data infrastructure leading to open data becoming the lifeblood of new industries and reliable supply of data.

Publishing with purpose:

  • There were calls for greater emphasis on basing prioritisation of data for publication on proactive user engagement and careful problem statements .
  • There were further requests for greater clarity in the relationship between ‘open by default’ and ‘publication with purpose’.
  • It was noted that the Charter could be strengthened to better reflect values on open data ethics and inclusivity, with one suggestion being a new Principle on Ethics.

We are now entering the final stage. Although this process confirmed that the Charter’s core principles are sound, the threats to data openness that came to fore in a global debate this year are real and require a nuanced approach. Yet changing the text of the Principles was not the answer.

After analysing possible options for how the Charter Principles could address these emerging challenges, the Advisory Board tasked the Charter team to develop an ‘Extension’ document.

While our fundamental Principles will remain intact, the 2019 ‘Charter Extension’ will recommend amendments and gather pledges from government adopters to guide their future actions and inform our work plans.

We look forward to sharing this work in the upcoming months.