[SPOTLIGHT] Time to rethink our open data infrastructures

Using data principles for crisis management

Open Data Charter
Mar 11 · 5 min read
Photo by Ivan Bandura on Unsplash

By Flor Serale, Co-chair of ODC’s Implementation Working Group (IWG)

In February 2021, we kicked-off our first IWG meeting. This session focused on the Policy+ initiative led by ODC and OCDE (see the draft for consultation), aimed at strengthening existing open data policies. These six target areas were identified to help strengthen the release of data as a tool for crisis readiness, response and recovery across government, society and the economy. They are: leadership, trust, transparency, standards, collaboration and equity.

We discussed the P+ principles and then showcased some experiences from government representatives in relation to either immediate or long-term policies across the different target areas. They shared both success stories and challenges and the following discussion reveals commonalities and yet more experiences.

Rebooting open data infrastructures to manage health crises: Policy + principles

During the meeting, Agustina De Luca, Network Director at ODC, presented the Policy+ target areas that complement the ODC Principles and aim to build more resilient data infrastructures. You can access her presentation here.

The document identifies six target areas to help improve the release of open COVID-19 data. Each area outlines a number of policy considerations, both immediate and long-term, to ensure that open data can help in crisis response, recovery and readiness.

From principles to action: lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic

Antonio Ibañez from Junta de Castilla y León region in Spain showcased how they are publishing open data in their portal to support the data ecosystem in using data during the pandemic.The open data portal contains useful tools to citizens, researchers, journalists and the private sector and shares data through different formats, offering specific datasets, APIs, tables, visualizations. They are currently publishing data across different sectors to manage the coronavirus health crisis, including vaccines and the vaccination process, tests, social protection information and geospatial data. The region has several dashboards to collaborate with the private sector and other government agencies (for example, providing geospatial data to manage goods delivery apps). They focus on providing data formats to cover different audiences and needs.

Junta de Castilla y León is also a good example on how leadership can enable open data practices. The regional government has a “Transparency Senior Officer” in charge of advising departments which data needs to be open. They are building a culture of open data and setting examples for other departments to continue opening data. For example, the head of the health office is a leader that encourages data release. Without his leadership it would have been impossible to release and use this data to manage the pandemic.

Another element mentioned by Antonio was Trust: anonymising information and publishing bulk data from municipalities and provinces was important to protect citizens’ data. In those municipalities with less than 1000 people, they just publish indicators but not raw data to protect privacy.

Paul Stone, our IWG Chair, also showcased the experience of New Zealand. The government of New Zealand is a great example of how Collaboration can support opening more and better data. Recent interviews with data managers and practitioners across the government revealed that many benefited greatly from the relationships they had with peers in the other agencies. The relationships existed because of a culture that fosters a joined-up public service to deliver better services to citizens, supported by communities of practice, forums, and cross-agency governance groups. This made it easier to reach out and discover what data other agencies held and people were eager to help one another.

The government of New Zealand faced challenges regarding Equity. They are now more aware that collecting data will lead to better disaggregated statistics across the board. Ethnicity and disability data was in significant demand. However, there is a balance to strike between the privacy law and the long term value, as the privacy law in NZ discourages collecting any more personal data than what is absolutely necessary to provide the service. So there is a tension between doing that and gathering richer data about people that could help with designing and delivering better services in the future.

In addition to this, when there was high demand for ethnic COVID case data at the local level there were not enough data points to make it completely anonymous, so they had to hold off releasing the data until the numbers of cases were large enough to maintain anonymity.

After their presentations, we discussed government practices to share and access data during the pandemic and lessons learned. The government of Ontario is a great example on how the pandemic demonstrated the need to publish quality data. Since the pandemic started, Ontario published 18 datasets and adopted standards (such as ISO 8601, YYYY-MM-DD) to make them accessible. Academics are now using the data and developing new products. Sustainability is one of the challenges, but they ensure it with leadership. They have a data specialist that decides which data needs to be published and coordinates with other specialists in areas such as cybersecurity. They are also using public sector data for policy making, although some data is not actually open but shared between government entities.

Argentina also mentioned that their strategy was to start publishing prioritized critical datasets demanded from the community (cases, deaths, etc). They faced challenges in publishing specific data assets such as procurement data, but they are coordinating with different areas within the government to open this data. Another challenge that was discussed is how to make open data strategies sustainable and increase trust to share and use more data.

These fruitful exchanges showed how governments have been facing similar challenges across the globe, and that peer exchanges and data collaborations are crucial for an effective response for health crises.

IWG’s new year resolution: build a diverse, impactful and engaging community

The IWG team spent the past months working on the IWG’s Action Plan 2021 that focuses in the following priorities:

  • Building a diverse, inclusive and equitable IWG. To enable inclusive participation for a diverse group of actors, by covering different sectors, regions and time-zones as well as growing and deepening participation by government representatives from national and local levels
  • Bridging knowledge with practice. To connect knowledge with practice by covering topics that reflect the state of the field and meet the needs of both civil society and governments to implement purpose driven and responsible open data.
  • Enabling meaningful engagements. To enable more meaningful engagements with IWG members and support the network in embedding the Open Data Charter’s principles in data policies and strategies

In our first meeting of the year, the governments of Uzbekistan, Castile and Leon Region (Spain) and Argentina participated for the first time, joining the governments of Canada and Ontario (Canada) and New Zealand that usually participate.

We are looking forward to engaging with more national and subnational governments to host conversations and share lessons on how to embed open data practices in the public sector, so if you are willing to exchange, share and learn how we can embed open data practices for better policy making, reach out to us at info@opendatacharter.org!


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

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