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What's on the international open data agenda?

At the recent International Open Data Conference in Madrid, more than 1,500 people arrived from the far corners of the earth to share knowledge, spark ideas, and set forth new learnings about open data. There was a definite buzz as conversations flowed and participants found like-minds amongst the larger group, all with a passion for open data and open government.

What is open data?

Still coming up-to-speed about open data? The simplest description I like to use about open data is by Richard Stirling from the Open Data Institute who we interviewed byGoogle Hangout earlier in the year: “Open data is data that anyone can take, use or share. It needs an open licence and it needs to be openly available.”

In this rapidly growing digital world, open data is one of the tools driving global change across governments and civil societies to bring improved economic and social outcomes.

Examples of what open data has achieved include The Guardian publishing its raw data behind the news for users to explore, visualise and debate; BlindSquare - a smartphone app that allows visually impaired people to navigate a city using open data such as transport information; to Thundermaps - a location data app that allows you to tell your team about potential dangers before accidents happen. Open data is consistently building new ways to achieve good in the world.

Highlights of the International Open Data Conference 2016

So what were some of the central ideas that stood out for me at the International Open Data Conference?  

Idea 1: Embedding open in governments in an increasingly closed world

In this rapidly shifting geopolitical climate, most governments are in a constant state of flux. Ensuring open data is firmly embedded at a legal and/or policy level in the world’s democracies will ensure the concept can’t be easily removed should political will shift.

Martin Tisne from the Omidyar Network summed this up well at IODC16 by asking “What will be undone if the winds change for open data?” Examples of countries that already have open data laws include South Korea, UkraineDubai and the United States

Idea 2: Focus on inclusion and exclusion with open data

The collection and access to open data must include marginalised groups such as women, ethnic minorities, and those in lower socio-economic groups who traditionally do not have access to data or digital literacy. The concept of “Nothing about us, without us” summarises the importance of prioritising access.

The Sustainable Development Goals clearly talk about inclusivity and equitable access for all and leaving no-one behind. For open data to help achieve these objectives, it is vital that marginalised groups are able to actively participate in the open data ecosystem.

The International Open Data Conference led discussions about the problems women face and how #genderdata will help resolve these. Discussions about the importance of access to internet connectivity; how to avoid algorithm risks of bringing innate biases into data; and the power of #genderdata to save lives stimulated powerful feelings among the attendees, evidenced by the impassioned tweeting during the discussion.

Phumzile Mlambo, the Executive Director of UN Women, says only 13% of governments provide budgets for #genderdata[1].

You can stay informed on this critical #genderdata conversation by watching the conference discussion:

·        Data and Gender: Thinking Critically (English) [4:57:52]

·        Data and Gender: Thinking Critically (Espanol) [4:57:52] 

To help appreciate how important #genderdata is, Open Data Watch has released a report on the Twenty Indicators for Monitoring SDG Gender Targets.

Idea 3: ‘Open washing’

The external pressures to demonstrate transparency and accountability are mounting, however the potential to use ‘open washing’ to falsely claim success remains. Claiming credit for thousands of datasets released that are in fact links and PDFs of poor quality data goes against all those working in the open data community are seeking to achieve - data as a tool for transparency.

Despite the concept of ‘open washing’ being around for awhile, the International Open Data Conference continued to discuss evidence of government and organisations continuing to falsely claim credit for their open data releases.

Warnings exist here for governments wanting to appear to be demonstrating the principles of open government. Active open government advocates and data geeks around the world over are utilising their digital power to investigate whether governments and organisations are truly releasing open data for greater good and practising what they preach.

As open data drives citizen engagement in government decision-making, more active voices can expect to be heard as public accountability is scrutinised. 

Image credits: IODC16


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