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[Spotlight] Publishing with a Purpose: The ODC IWG on Usability & Sustainability of Open Government Data

A Recap of ODC’s Implementation Working Group meeting on May 24, 2022

by Wilfreda Edward-Dolcy, ODC’s Implementation Working Group Co-chair

Photo by Paulius Dragunas on Unsplash

There’s no question that building a healthy, thriving, and resilient digital democracy requires governments to open data to the public. However, focusing on increased access to greater amounts of open data without consideration for usability can limit the potential for sustainable open data re-use. Open data re-use can be truly maximized when government datasets are prioritized based on public demand.

The 2022 Global Data Barometer (GDB) findings echo this sentiment. In its first edition, the GDB measured the state of data for public good in 109 countries, using four core pillars: data governance, capabilities, availability, and use and impact of data for public good. The use and impact pillar had the lowest global average by far — underscoring the need for improvement worldwide.

This week’s ODC Implementation Working Group (IWG) on innovation and service delivery aligned well with the GDB findings. Our discussion highlighted the importance of looking beyond the historical focus on data accessibility, availability and transparency towards business models that focus on the reusability of open government data to create greater impact for the public good. This shift could be seen as the missing link in the open data supply chain, which helps connect government data with end users in a more meaningful way.

The GovTech Model: Thoughts from the Development Bank of Latin America

Enrique Zapata, a Senior Specialist in the Directorate of Digital Innovation of the State at the Development of Bank of Latin America (CAF), kicked off our conversation by introducing the GovTech model. He began by sharing a clear definition of GovTech, which CAF developed alongside academics and startups, as:

“a new service delivery model in which governments and data-driven startups collaborate to solve public problems with data and new technologies.”

Enrique noted that this definition differs from how other actors in the digital ecosystem would explain GovTech. The uniqueness of this approach is in its emphasis on innovating through a new service delivery model driven by solving public problems. He went on to outline opportunities for innovation through government partnerships with startups that employ data-using technologies such as blockchain, drones, and AI. Through these relationships, the GovTech model can effectively address known limitations in government capacity, while leveraging new technologies.

Enrique’s presentation further emphasized the importance of GovTech solutions for “wicked problems”; i.e., problems that don’t have a specific solution and can be generalized worldwide but require national and local governments to understand their capacities and contexts before pursuing action. For example, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a unique case for investigating how GovTech can translate government data into meaningful public benefits.

There are five ways that Govtech can bolster the achievement of the SDGs, along with key considerations:

  1. Data is the main driver of GovTech businesses
  • Consider that data is the primary input for new technologies and serves as a fundamental building block

2. Promotes open government data reusability

  • Consider the increased usability of public data when used in GovTech

3. Generates new data sources for the public sector

  • Consider open data trusts and the enabling of numerous data sources for a single purpose

4. Creates public value (Return on Investment) & economic development

  • Consider how government can save public funds and diversify its procurement and spending practices

5. Centered in use and impact around data

  • Consider how data is repurposed to better serve the public

Despite this innovation, it was clear that there is more learning to be done regarding how service delivery can be changed by GovTech. In the next 2 to 3 months, CAF will release a report to provide further details on the role of GovTech in achieving the SDGs. While we wait though, Enrique graciously identified a series of examples where this approach has already been adopted:

His presentation closed with the reiteration of an imminent need to increase our collective understanding of data as the building block of GovTech and the future of service delivery. Moreover, Enrique reminded us that we must continue to address the chronic problem of use and impact. GovTech is a way to take the open data ecosystem forward by shifting to a model founded on the intents of users and the principles of open data.

Lessons from the Private Sector: The Experience of Glovo

Our second speaker, Magalí Gurman, joined us from the public affairs team at Glovo to provide valuable insights on effective private sector is engagement with open data.

Glovo is a tech-platform that gives users easy access to every aspect of their cities. Across the 25 operating countries worldwide, Glovo users, couriers, and business clients generate an immense amount of data. Magalí explained that this operations, demographic and business-related data can provide significant insight into consumer behaviours within urban centres. As such, Glovo has the opportunity to highlight specific social and economic issues and leverage this data as the testing ground for innovative solutions. The company has released three core data objectives that guide its forward action-plan:

Glovo recently began publishing data through its own online portal, which allows users to visualize and download selected datasets. While improving data accessibility and availability, Glovo is also looking for use cases for this data, particularly through opportunities for integration with data from other companies, civil society organizations and academia.

Magalí’s presentation ended with a look at Glovo’s main challenges in releasing data to the public, including the sensitivity of information as well as privacy protection considerations. Overall this company’s experience is a testament that issues surrounding data use and impact are not limited to the public sector, but in fact affect the entire open data ecosystem.

From Data-Led to Purpose-Led: Lessons from Public Digital’s Review in Brussels

Our final speaker was Claire Bedoui, who is a principal consultant at Public Digital — a digital transformation consultancy firm. Claire shared that as part of Public Digital’s work with global institutions and governments, she helps clients thrive in the internet era. In one of their major initiatives, the company conducted a diagnostic for data capacities in the City of Brussels. The process involved interviewing 20 individuals in each department to gather feedback; however several challenges emerged. The diagnostic revealed a lack of interdepartmental cooperation, poor standardized data taxonomy, limited buy-in from leadership on data catalogs, and a focus on releasing data that was readily available, rather than what was needed by the public. Like her fellow panelists, Claire noted That The City of Brussels diagnostic highlights the need for a shift in the way governments think about open data, from being data-led to purpose-led.

“What’s more important [than the number of datasets] is the methodology of how you run purpose-led data projects around the data needs that have emerged from teams.” — Theo Blackwell, London Chief Digital Officer

By focusing on the user and adopting a service perspective, governments can focus on potential use-cases for public sector. Governments should further support reuse by provided resources around the release of data including documentation, guidance and training. In so doing, open government data becomes more easily digestible by users and more frequently integrated into new technologies.

Assessing combinations of datasets from various government agencies can also be critical for the public to extract value from open government data. Data interoperability between public sector organizations can help to integrate data services across agencies. In thinking through these considerations, governments can meet end-to-end user needs and promote sustainable open data re-use.

Claire concluded with two core points to modernize the use and impact of open government data:

  1. Meeting user needs by understanding who the target user is, what they are trying to accomplish, how we can meet their need, and how we can test our progress to ensure ethir needs are met.
  2. Build sustainable services that focus on making long-term improvements for citizens and employ in-house teams to continuously update datasets. Furthermore, data must remain reliable by ensuring the provision of budget lines to support service maintenance.

Key Takeaways

Despite presenting three different contexts and application for open data reuse and impact from CAF, Glovo, and Public Digital, all three panelists emphasized the importance of open data usability and sustainability. It is possible to create value from open data for the public good through innovative solutions, if we can:

  1. Focus on publishing what will make a difference, over what can be easily released;
  2. Identify and meet the long-term needs of users; and
  3. Innovate and engage in partnerships that pursue public benefits.

Wilfreda Edward-Dolcy is an Open Data Specialist, on the Strategic Policy Team, in the Open Government Office of the Chief Information Officer for the Government of Canada. She is also the co-chair of ODC’s Implementation Working Group.

If you would like to be a part of our Implementation Working Group, please don’t hesitate to get in touch: mailto:info@opendatacharter.org

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