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On the importance of community

An open call for a new Implementation Working Group Co-Chair

by Darine Benkalha, ODC’s IWG Co-chair

Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash

“Building community is a requisite foundation for building a better world.” I stumbled upon those words while reading “All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis”, a collection of essays from women at the forefront of the climate movement edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K.Wilkinson.

This seemingly simple sentence struck me as I contemplated the last 3 years of my life working in the field of open government — before a whole new adventure at Environment and Climate Change Canada awaits me.

If there is something that I learned while working with Canada’s Open Government Team, it is that collaboration, co-creation and community are indeed the foundations of strong and efficient open government initiatives that will in turn help to build a better world for all. I was lucky enough to learn this important lesson by working with provincial and territorial partners, the Open Government Partnership and its country members, as well as colleagues from civil society. I have also witnessed the importance of community when I joined the Open Data Charter’s Implementation Working Group (IWG).

I started attending the IWG meetings in 2020. While I was familiar with the ODC’s mission and principles (Canada was quite involved in the elaboration of the Charter in 2015), I didn’t know much about the IWG, its “raison d’être” or its members. At the first meeting, I stayed quiet and observed. I knew I was comfortable with anything open government related, but I was far from being an open data pundit — how could I possibly contribute meaningfully to the group’s conversations?! It didn’t take long to realize that the IWG was a safe community of practice where anyone working in the open is welcome to share ideas, successes, challenges and hopes. I left this first meeting energized and inspired by what I heard from “open champions” from around the world, and knowing that I wanted to get more involved in this community.

The IWG as a member

I started on the member side of the group, attending monthly meetings where guest speakers were invited to present on a topic followed by a discussion where each participant is welcome to ask questions, share their work and ask for advice on specific initiatives. The topics covered during each session are agreed upon by IWG members and presented in the groups yearly action plan. In 2021 we discussed topics like climate justice data, data ethics, national-local collaboration (2021 Action Plan). After each IWG, a blog summarizing the discussion is shared with the broader ODC community. One of the ODC’s ways to engage IWG members is to encourage them to write those blogs.

For the September 2020 IWG session, the ODC invited Olivier Thereaux from the Open Data Institute, Sara Baker from The Engine Room and María Paz Canales from Derechos Digitales to discuss data ethics and explore the principles and behaviours we should adopt when working with data. Since I was very interested in the topic, I volunteered to summarize the session and published my first ODC blog entitled “Walking the walk of Data Ethics: From theory to practice”. Writing this piece was a lot of fun as I had a lot of creative freedom to do so. But even more important is that this blog got translated in farsi by Iran Open Data. This experience made me understand the value of the ODC—building a community that allows peer-exchanges, bonding and friendships around that which matters the most to all of us: Opening governments to make them more accountable, responsible and inclusive.

The IWG as a co-chair

Another characteristic of the IWG is that it is led by government and civil society co-chairs. When I joined the IWG, Paul Stone from the government of New-Zealand, and Flor Serale from the Open Data Institute, were chairing the group. To lead the IWG they were accompanied by the wonderful ODC Team — Ania, Nati, Agustina and Cat. I was lucky enough to get to know the IWG’s leadership better when I wrote the data ethics blog and remember being very impressed by their knowledge, generosity and creativity. I was thus quite disappointed to learn that Paul was leaving the government chair role as he was leading the group with so much passion (chairing meetings so early in the mornings because of time difference is one example of his dedication), intelligence and care.

I was quite surprised when the ODC team approached me to see if I would be interested in applying for the government chair role. I had thought about it when I read Paul’s open call but I didn’t think I had what it takes to fill Paul’s shoes. I took some time to think about it and decided to take the leap, reassured that I would be leading the group alongside Flor, a wonderful civil society partner, and with the indulgence of Nati, Mechi and Cat from the ODC team.

I have thus been the IWG’s co-chair for around 8 months, and continued to witness first hand the strength of the ODC’s community. Working closely with the ODC Team unveiled that everything they do are done with the values of collaboration and co-creation: we all had our says about the meetings agendas, worked together to identify and invite speakers from all around the world, co-edited the blogs, and supported each other regularly on our Slack channel (with a lot of emojis, exclamation points and words of encouragement).

As a co-chair, I also had wonderful bilateral peer-exchanges with members of the IWG. I created myself a network of like-minded open government and open data champions that I can continue to learn from and that will inspire me to continue to prioritise openness, transparency and inclusion in my daily work and in my life. But being the co-chair benefited more than myself, I also brought back lessons I learned from the IWG to my team and managed to build connections between my team and IWG members around our open data projects.

As much as this co-chairing experience brought me, it is now time to give the seat to someone else as I am starting a new adventure a little further away from open government and open data. I will now be working on youth engagement at Environment and Climate Change Canada where I will collaborate with brilliant young people from all walks of life to co-create a sustainable future for all. The ODC Team is thus looking for a new government chair to step up.

Do you want to contribute to building a community and a better world?

If you:

  • believe in community and collaboration to multiply the value and impact of open data and open government initiatives for all
  • are an ODC national or local government adopter working in the fields of open government and open data
  • willing to dedicate a few hours a month on planning, moderating meetings and writing summary blogs

Then, this role is for you! To apply, please send out a background letter outlining why that should be you to, and an ODC member will contact you. Deadline has been extended to April 15, 2022.



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