A change in focus

Open call for a new Implementation Working Group Co-Chair

Open Data Charter
Apr 26 · 6 min read
Photo by Kevin Ku on Unsplash

By Paul Stone, IWG Co-Chair (2018–2021)

Three years ago, in March 2018, New Zealand signed up to the international Open Data Charter. Doing so gave us another lever to pull on in our advocacy for change, especially as this involved developing a time-bound action plan in the public domain which we then needed to report progress against.

Another benefit to signing up: building our international connections. We had learned that when you are a small team with the job of turning around the culture of an entire government, you have no peers close by to share and learn from, to inspire and re-energise you for the work you need to do. So your peers are people scattered all around the world trying to do the same in their corner of the globe.

We had barely signed up when I was asked if I would like to be government co-chair of the Implementation Working Group (IWG). This, I’ll admit, felt like a scary opportunity. Scary because I had no idea how the working group was run, what they did, and what was expected of me as chair. An opportunity because it was a way to keep building my international contacts and a place to contribute what I know and learn new ideas from others that could be applied to my work here in New Zealand. It was also an opportunity to become a part of something that was bigger than New Zealand, a chance to contribute to global impact. By working with others building a knowledge base to support people working to open governments around the world, you gain a real sense of helping change the world for the better.

And we are. It’s taking longer than we all would like, but the world is definitely changing due to open data. People’s expectations have risen and governments are having to respond. But there is still work to be done. It’s still going to take people with a real passion for open data and lots of energy to keep the momentum of change going.The landscape is also constantly changing. We can no longer look at open data in isolation, it is a part of a broader data ecosystem where we must consider it in conjunction with privacy; ethics; AI and machine learning; Indigenous Data Sovereignty; data justice and equity.

IWG, then and now

When first I started co-chairing the IWG the meetings were at 3am. It was somewhat challenging just to think at that time of the morning, let alone chair a meeting. I relied on my fabulous co-chair at the time, Fiona Smith from the Open Data Institute to steer the ship. After a couple of monthly meetings, I declared that if I was to be of any use the meeting time needed to change!

As well as shifting the time of the meeting, there was also a shift in the focus of the IWG. The Charter Principles were due for their three-year review, and so a global scale consultation was beginning. The IWG played a key part in that process, not only as a group of practitioners from both inside and outside of governments, but also as nodes to expand further the network reach for the consultation.

The principles appeared to have stood the test of time, with no substantive change resulting from the consultation. However, the debate about “open by default” was re-ignited. The term “publish with purpose” was initially raised as an alternative principle, but really, they are complimentary. Open by Default is the long game, striving to reach a point where, by default, people ask “can this be open data? If so, how?” Publish with Purpose, on the other hand, is the short game (with long term benefits), opening specific data to help solve a high-profile problem. The benefit of publishing with purpose is the ability to make a real, tangible impact and have an immediate story to illustrate the value of open data.

But whether we’re aiming for open by default or to publish with purpose, we need to “open by design”. Opening data needs to be a process baked into the way we do things, and ideally a natural by-product of doing government business. We need to consider privacy impacts and cultural aspects for indigenous peoples, ethnic groups and other communities represented in the data. We need to manage bias in the data, ensure sustainable quality and update, and prepare good context to ensure people using the data understand its origin, purpose of collection, strengths and weaknesses. It involves technology choices, process changes, data management and governance.

How the IWG works

Here’s where the IWG comes in. Post the review of the Principles, the working group has focused on a topic each meeting. With an insight presented by someone in the group or external guests, leading into discussion where knowledge and experiences are shared. A blog is then published to capture and share the learning with the Charter network and beyond.

Some topics covered so far:

Topics addressed are agreed on by IWG members and an annual action plan prepared to guide the year’s activity. Read our 2021 Action Plan to see what’s planned this year.

The Implementation Working Group operates with a co-chair working in government and a co-chair working in a civil society organisation. I have had the privilege and pleasure to work with Flor Serale, who joined the working group as co-chair from the Inter-American Development Bank, and who has since joined the Open Data Institute. The Chairs are supported by, and work collaboratively with, the Amazing ODC team. Ania, Nati, Agus and Cat are a powerhouse of passion and ideas and have been a huge support to the working group even while making real impact in so many areas such as gender equity, climate change and fighting corruption.

Stepping down for someone to step up

My season of dedicated focus on open data has ended with the end of the programme in New Zealand, and I have begun a new adventure in the Ministry of Justice. There will be open government opportunities on the horizon, but there are a lot of new things to learn and do, and I must let open data go. Thus, after a decade of open data, I am reluctantly stepping down as co-chair of the IWG. I will still have an interest, but not the time and energy to co-lead this group as well as the important work in Justice. It has been a blast, and I will miss working with wonderful people, but it’s time to hit the breaks and let someone else drive.

Is that someone you? Are you working for open data in government? Do you want to contribute to changing the world for the better? The ODC Team is searching for a data steward working in a national or local government to become our new IWG Co-chair and support the Charter Principles, 2021 Action plan implementation, and innovate with this amazing group.

To apply, please send out a background letter outlining why that should be you to recruitments@opendatacharter.org, and an ODC member will contact you. Deadline is May 16.

Hope you enjoy the journey as much as I did!


Towards a culture of open and responsible data use by governments and citizens.

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