A year in the life of the Charter team

Highlight of accomplishments, challenges & lessons learned, and a peek of what’s to come

By Ania Calderon

We’ve been in operation as the Charter’s full time team for a little under a year, but we have already made significant impact. We have continued to position the Charter as a coalescing force in the open data space — spanning the gap between governments and civil society.

The first few months as a team was a whirlwind as we set up the team structures, while bringing together diverse visions on the direction the Charter should go. These came from open data believers who had worked long and hard to bring the Charter and its principles into existence.

We listened closely and decided to test four of the ideas to determine how the Charter can add value to the sector [read our original strategy]. The plan has been to develop a shared understanding of what the Charter’s focus should be. So that after a year of testing out different approaches, our direction going forward, will be underpinned by evidence.

Its being an interesting but fulfilling adventure. Below, we take you through our story so far; highlighting our successes, the lessons we learned along the way and a peak of what’s to come next year.

Our impact to date

Piloting the anti-corruption Open Up Guide in Mexico

In May, we launched our guide on how to use open data to combat corruption. Since then we have partnered with the Mexican government and civil society to explore what datasets can be published and used to help in the fight against corruption. The government has already committed to releasing new data in a way that is helpful to potential data users. We will build on our insights from this project to help shape our work our approach focusing on using open data to solve specific problems.

Shaping the consensus on what good open data looks like

As well as working at a more granular level to open up data, we’ve helped to shape global policy debates on the issue. We will partner with the OECD to develop a normative instrument on data driven government, building on the Open Data Charter’s Principles. The process of developing this chapter will go hand-in-hand with the refresh of the Charter principles, which will be carried out in 2018. Both of these processes will bring together the open data community to agree an updated view of how to do open data well.

Additionally, we worked with the government of Argentina to support open data as part of their priorities for their 2018 G20 presidency.

Kick-starting conversations about the future of open data

We launched a report on how open data officials responded when facing potential political tsunamis. The report concluded that what’s needed is cross-party support for open data, broad ownership for the issue within government and results that resonate.

We also published a number of tools to help governments implement the Charter, such as our new adoption and implementation Roadmap. Along with the Transparency and Accountability Initiative, and other groups, we’ve jump started a conversation about the impact gap in open data and how to move from government transparency to greater accountability.

Working to better align open data measurement tools.

The Charter’s measurement working group, which brings together the organisations behind the four key open data measurement tools, is working on reducing duplication and more closely aligning their tools to the Charter principles. Special thanks should go to the groups co-chairs Danny Lämmerhirt and Ana Brandusescu. In addition, the next edition of the Open Data Barometer will focus on measuring Charter members.

Growing and strengthening the Charter network.

Eleven governments have adopted the Charter, including Australia and a host of cities, and a further eleven are in active discussions with the team about adoption. Several expert organisations worldwide have also endorsed the Charter principles, signaling their commitment to achieving the highest international standards. Governments, such as Germany, have also incorporated the Charter principles into their open data laws.

We have successfully transitioned to a new governance structure and Richard Stirling has become the chair of the advisory board. We received several strong candidates for the board and we’ll be announcing the new members in January.

Challenges & lessons learned

Over the last decade open data has become an increasingly important tool for governments to improve the provision of public services and demonstrate a commitment towards accountability. However, the work we’ve done over the last year as the Charter, and my experience working in government, has highlighted a number of challenges for the sector.

Firstly, the benefits of open data need to become self-evident — to governments and citizens. Open data holds enormous promise, but at the moment the results have not led to large scale institutional changes on how governments use and share data, leading to question how the resources and political capital have been devoted to opening up data.

Secondly, open data policies need to be institutionalised across government. Our research into how open data leaders face impending elections highlights the fragility of reforms. It also gave us insights into how to embed open data in government. Key to this is to broaden ownership across government and civil society.

Finally, open data reforms need to be integrated into broader reforms that address key policy challenges. Open data shouldn’t be a goal in itself, instead it is a tool that can be used to solve specific policy challenges. We need to reach out to other sectors more and collaborate on how open data can be used to address pressing problems.

These reflections have shaped the direction that we’re planning to take in 2018.

Our future direction

Next year, we will focus down on two areas:

  • Refreshing principles: Leading a collective conversation about what good open data looks like. In particular, we think it’s important to recognise the growing consensus that opening up data in isolation is less effective than if targeted at solving specific policy problems. This will lead to a refreshed set of Charter principles.
  • Practical guidance: Continue to experiment with how to implement open data is a way that encourages problem-solving through developing and testing our thematic-focused open up guides. We’ll work with a partner organisation to develop a new Open Up Guide and then pilot it in country.

We’ll be publishing our full strategy in the New Year for feedback from the community.

We are extremely grateful to our network whose continuous engagement provides the Charter its footing and our funders for their continuous support. The coming year will be an exciting one for the Charter, we look forward to new and continued collaborations!