[Spotlight] Lifting capability to deliver and use open data
By Paul Stone, IWG Co-Chair (2018–2021)
A big part of opening up data is a cultural shift. But it’s not just about culture, new technical knowledge and skills are required to actually make it happen. The great thing is though, these new capabilities are applicable to more than just open data.
Interoperability is quite a mouthful of a word, but it seems to be making a comeback in the world of tech buzzwords. Why? Because the world is waking up (and perhaps partly accelerated by responses to COVID-19) to the fact that collaborating over data can lead to some innovative and impactful new ways of delivering services or solving problems. To collaborate you need to be interoperable. Systems need to talk to each other and data needs to be shared and merged effortlessly.
What has interoperability got to do with delivering open data? Everything! Delivering quality open and reusable data requires the application of open standards:
- machine-readable data in open data formats (such as CSV, XML, JSON, RDF, GeoJSON, Shape Files etc.);
- content conforming to data standards for consistency and comparable values (such as in addresses, gender, ethnicity, date of birth etc.);
- Open API’s using non-proprietary commands and queries so that any system or person querying can know how to interact;
- Open metadata standards to help systems and people discover, understand and use your data appropriately.
In order to create the maximum opportunity for people and organisations to collaborate, we need to apply open standards at all levels. Therefore, if your organisation has the knowledge and skills to deliver open data, it’s also well equipped to collaborate with partners through interoperable systems and processes.
This is why the ODC´s April Implementation Working Group meeting was so valuable. Sharing knowledge and experiences in releasing and using open data has the bonus of equipping our governments to be more interoperable and able to collaborate in the digital economy.
Lifting the capability to release and use open data requires trying multiple approaches. It was fantastic to hear in our meeting from both a government and non-governmental organisations what they were doing to support the development of of open data capabilities
Engaging our youth
First, we heard from Karl Donert of EUROGEO, a non-profit subject association established by the European Commission in 1979, who is a new member of the Open Data Charter community. Their projects have been either targeted networking or research projects in education, connected with Geography and the use of geographical information. A highlight has been their work on the YouthMetre project to support youth (young people aged 18–30) to participate in policy making and democratic engagement. Eurobarometer surveys showed that youth had become increasingly less likely to get involved in actions and policies that concern them, so the project sought to engage youth through open data on different aspects and geographies of the European Union.
The project carried out a study of what valuable open European datasets were available.The YouthMetre created visualisations of the data based on a series of dialogues, research and training with youth in 15 countries across Europe, culminating in an event organised with European politicians. The young people showcased the main indicators of youth policy that were most important for them.
From this, the project created a youth development index based on 87 indicators they said were most important. This index identifies regions where young people are well catered for and those which do not. The purpose of YouthMetre was to train young people to use the open data to challenge policy decisions, propose evidence-based alternatives so that they can make their voices heard about the policies that concern them most and establish dialogue with policymakers. The Geocitizen app, created by Z-GIS at the University of Salzburg, Austria, was used to help share ideas for policy and connect to policy makers.
Karl introduced a new follow-up project EUROGEO is coordinating to improve data literacy in schools, D3: Developing Digital Data literacy (https://d3.youthmetre.eu). The aim is that teachers and pupils can identify, collect data and use data effectively. The project is developing a toolkit for teachers to help them teach about open data in the classroom and a training course for high school teachers.
Next, we heard from Andreas Amsler who shared experiences from a government’s perspective to build open data delivery. Like many other places, at both local or national level, the Canton of Zurich has no legal obligation to publish open data, it’s voluntary. Therefore efforts have gone into selling the value of open data and making it as easy as possible for agencies to release it.
A key foundation was to implement a metadata standard with which to describe data, and then using this to feed a central data catalogue. Other things they have done with success over the last three years include:
- Establishing a permanent board of agencies that want to publish open data (working with the willing);
- Gathering user analytics and feedback to inform agencies on what data users are interested in;
- Mediating user needs to data stewards;
- COVID-19 created opportunities to deliver and showed what can be done by collaborating and sharing competencies and skills across government.
Some things that were more challenging include:
- Fostering other agencies to deliver by themselves;
- Scaling up to support and encourage more agencies;
- Getting agencies to close the feedback loop (getting stewards gain trust, use feedback);
- Building decentral structures for delivery and creating incentives to change accustomed ways of working;
What might foster delivery in the future?
- A cross-agency network;
- Support for better data governance and management and data inventories (however challenging to do this work);
- Providing standardised registries (i.e. decentrally maintained, highly demanded core data for lots of users);
- Legal obligation to open by default (while having a law might not be enough).
Some other experiences
From there discussion broke and we got to hear some of what others have done, including:
- Statistics Sweden have created teacher guides on how to use statistics (which is open data), this was well received;
- New Zealand provides a national data catalogue website where citizens can request new datasets to be opened: https://www.data.govt.nz/request-data/. They have also established a Data Champion network across most agencies; and an open data checklist to help the data release. The Transport Agency released a framework and procedures for opening data
- Canada has also established a formulaire to request a dataset via the national data catalogue website
- In Bogotá we will soon have ours. It will work through an existing tool that citizens also use for other requests: https://bogota.gov.co/sdqs/
- Commitment 10.7 of the Candian National Action Plan on Open Government is to “promote data literacy and management for public servants within all levels of government”
- Mexico has an Open Data Squad to roam and support agencies;
- Ontario have had an open data conference to collaborate with the local community
- Catalonia has developed a Metadata Guide to help public agencies publish data in the open data portal on a standardized way
During the session, multiple members recommended reading The Third Wave of Open Data.
Before we knew it our hour was up, but as always, there is more to share. There is a rich source of knowledge and experience in the ODC network. If you reach out and ask if someone has tried something or tackled a particular problem, chances are there will be someone who can help. So let’s make the most out of this working group and ask.
If you want to join these conversations and the IWG, please email us at email@example.com. Our next meeting will be held on Tuesday, 22 June 2021.