Central and local governments around the world are increasingly opening data and making them available for free, often as part of continuing efforts to further the reality of open government. While this has resulted in approval from development practitioners, government sponsors and technologists, the general public has not been widely engaged in the effort. As a result, the level of informed public debate on data-driven issues—from budgets, to service delivery, to the practical effectiveness of donor aid—is low, even in many of the “opened” sectors.
Increasing the level of awareness of Open Data and its potential value is of particular interest to government agencies, civil society organizations, technologists and journalists. As data are opened, however, capturing the attention and imagination of the full spectrum of data users and consumers remains a challenge. How do we engage the other side—the demand side—of the Open Data phenomenon? How can we grow communities of data users and encourage data “ownership” by the media, community groups, NGOs, labor unions, professional associations, universities and others?
Realizing the full benefits of data use also means engaging civic hackers, also known as programmers and developers. Because data-driven products, apps, and content can improve quality of life, the global movement by developers to reclaim the term “hackers” and emphasize their positive contributions to civil society is gaining wider acceptance.
When assessing engagement strategies and activities, the level of readiness of an Open Data initiative and the data literacy of its users are primary factors to consider. To engage a variety of stakeholders as an Open Data program develops, the following strategy addresses both the readiness level and the initiative’s audience, and may help inspire and empower citizens to use Open Data and maximize value to the public in practical ways. The strategy is comprised of four stages: Early Engagement, Capacity Development, Use & Re-use and Further Development.
Stage 1: Early Engagement
During the early stage, engagement strategies focus on identifying key data providers and consumers and encouraging them to take the first critical steps towards an Open Data initiative. On the provider side, engagement might mean identifying data managers in key government ministries and agencies; sometimes government staff need help understanding what data they already have. On the consumer side, engagement strategies might identify organizations that have both the incentive and the means to use Open Data immediately. For both audiences, early engagement often entails growing awareness of the use, benefits and opportunities presented by Open Data; identifying priorities and data demands for different audiences; building capacity; and supporting Open Data communities that already exist. The following events and programs are examples of effective Stage 1 strategies:
- Open Data Sensitization Workshops. Designed for a variety of audiences, these events provide an overview of Open Data best practices and benefits, along with insights from countries, regions and partners about their experiences. One example is the Open Data Stakeholder Engagement Workshop, which was held during the January 2014 announcement of Nigeria’s Open Data Initiative.
- The Business Case for Open Data Roundtable. This high-level roundtable introduces the benefits of Open Data for social, economic and private sector growth and development, and attempts to catalyze leadership on both supply and demand sides. Information provided at this roundtable is customized for groups of decision-makers—including ministerial officials, local government leaders, CEOs, media owners, directors of civil society organizations and more—and twinned with support opportunities from the Bank and its close partners, such as the Data Literacy Bootcamp detailed in Stage 2. Examples include Media Leaders Roundtables on ‘Open Data and the Future of News’ held in Ghana, Kenya, Nepal, Tanzania and South Africa.
- Data Liberation Scrape-a-thon. A two-day program that convenes international coders and sources local civic coders to collect existing, unstructured government data, re-structure them in machine-readable formats (e.g., CSV) and use them to populate a nascent or temporary Open Data platform. The program provides an opportunity to gain traction on the early Open Data process by capitalizing on what’s already available and leveraging it to build momentum toward further opening by individual ministries. One such program supports the Hacks/Hackers Open News Scrape-a-thon in Chile, where “scraped” data is hosted for free on civically owned and communally managed repositories, such as OpenAfricaData.org and OpenDataLatinoAmerica.org.
Stage 2: Capacity Development
For any data to be useful, consumers must develop “data literacy”: They must understand data, how to acquire data and how to apply data to specific needs. Stage 2 engagement strategies increase data literacy and technical capacity among potential users, including journalists, non-profit organizations, academics and software developers. The degree and style of technical training depends on the audience. Ideally, consumers would take part in multiple training opportunities as their needs require, and connect to local interest groups and communities of practice. The following courses and workshops address these objectives:
- Open Data Literacy Bootcamps. These intensive three-day “learn-by-doing” workshops focus on core skills development for journalists, civil society and civic coders. Each participant is assigned a desktop computer in a classroom for hands-on, guided practicals. Sessions include demonstrations of Open Data catalogs; training on Excel/spreadsheets and creating pivot tables; scraping local county and national data; cleaning this data; creating visualizations; an introduction to GIS mapping; and ultimately crafting narratives around data, including an introduction to building apps and action plans. Example engagements include Data Literacy Bootcamps in India, Mexico, Singapore, South Sudan, Sudan, Bolivia, Ghana, Jordan, Nepal, Malawi, Moldova, South Africa, Tanzania, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Venezuela and Uruguay.
- Open Data Master Classes. These classes provide intensive multi-week, bootcamp-style training for mid-career demand-side practitioners, which dives even deeper into data literacy experiential learning and skills building with data analysis.
- E-Learning on Open Data Literacy. This weeks-long Open Data literacy e-learning course will launch in 2015 and demonstrate an even broader array of data literacy tools. It will be offered as both a facilitated and self-guided course to maximize utility for a broad audience. The courses will be free, open source and made available on multiple e-learning platforms.
Stage 3: Use & Re-use
The objective of Stage 3 is to harness Open Data in specific ways to address particular challenges and opportunities, and use Open Data to generate tangible value and results. Governments may already have policy priorities for which they are looking for solutions involving Open Data, and engagement at this stage can be designed to develop the beginnings of those solutions. In other cases, the private sector may have its own ideas and the goal may be to simply encourage innovation towards any public purpose imaginable. The following events and engagements target specific challenges and attempt to identify appropriate solutions:
- Utility Hackathons. Utility hackathons are organized around particular development challenges where data has already been surfaced, such as through data liberation scrape-a-thons. Technologists typically use existing data to develop and build utility apps that solve development problems, with an emphasis on public service delivery. Winners may receive seed grants to build out and deploy utility apps and may be offered post-hackathon mentoring and advice to accelerate development/deployment and—more importantly—repurpose those utility apps in other country/regions to meet analogous needs. Examples of utility hackathons cut across key development areas, such as domestic violence, water quality and access and sanitation.
- Apps Challenges and Competitions. Competitions are similar to hackathons, but typically emphasize competitive elements with prizes and/or recognition awarded by a judging panel. The rules of the competition specify the products or applications considered eligible to meet the sponsor’s goals. Examples include the Open Data Challenge, Apps for Development, Apps for Climate and the Food Security Open Data Challenge.
- Prototype Funds. A partnership-driven process to connect well-developed utility app and data usage projects (i.e., those at the post-redesign/re-development stage, through prior mentorship and feedback) to angel investor-type funding to build out and deploy scalable models. An example of partnership-driven engagement is the Africa News Innovation Challenge.
Stage 4: Further Development
Once the Open Data initiative is firmly established, engagement strategies focus on ensuring that the initiative remains sustainable. This can mean reinforcing the efforts of earlier stages, propagating the initiative to other levels of government (from national to subnational or vice versa) and supporting data user communities both locally and nationally. The following are examples of programs and activities that advocate user sponsorship, fostering or participation to help sustain initiatives:
- Code for [Your Country]. This is a partnership-driven, six-month Code Fellowship program, which collaboratively integrates top civic coders into government ministries to deploy coding skills to improve public service delivery, and into media and civil society organizations to strengthen the creation of data-driven content, products and services for mass public consumption, analysis and use. This initiative also improves transparent, accountable governance by supporting the identification and opening of demand-driven, actionable data and strengthening both data-driven analysis and decision-making at all levels. Examples of partnership-driven engagement include Code4Kenya, CodeforAfrica, Code for South Africa and Code for Nepal.
- International and Regional Open Data Conferences. These conferences are sponsored by different organizations and held around the world. They offer learning opportunities for both data providers and consumers and connect affiliated communities of practice. Examples include sessions at the first and second International Open Government Data Conferences, Open Government Conference in Moscow and the first and second Regional Conferences on Open Data for Latin America and the Caribbean.
- Open Data Communities. Organized user communities can provide sustained support and engagement over the long term. They can be locally based or part of international consortia. Examples include Hacks.Hacker chapters, GDGroups, ODI Nodes, OKFN Chapters and Data Cafes.
Open Data Communities
Organizations, user groups, blogs and other forums that advocate and support Open Data:
- Open Knowledge Foundation (OKFN). Non-profit network that uses advocacy, technology and training to support the concept of open knowledge—i.e., universal access to key information and the ability for anyone to use information to their benefit—as mainstream
- Sunlight Foundation. Nonpartisan non-profit that advocates for open government and uses Open Data technology tools, policy recommendations, journalism and grants to make government more accountable
- Guardian Datablog. Data-related news from U.K.-based media company
- Open Data Institute. U.K.-based organization that promotes Open Data through shared learning, research and training
- Open Data Innovations Network. LinkedIn user group, supported by a World Bank-initiated knowledge partnership, that catalyzes and supports open government data initiatives and open innovation ecosystems in developing countries and helps facilitate adoption of Open Data tools, methods and principles
- Civic Commons. Community-driven, civic-focused information resource that fosters the growth of a community of technologists who share information about their applications and application code to encourage governments to work together to solve common problems
- European Public Sector Information Platform. Europe’s “one-stop shop” for public sector information (PSI) re-use; an initiative of the European commission to promote a PSI and Open Data re-use market across the EU
- Global Spatial Data Infrastructure (GSDI) Association. An association that promotes international cooperation and collaboration on spatial data to better address social, economic and environmental issues
- Open Data for Development in Latin America and the Caribbean. A project to produce and expand knowledge on Open Data and its potential to improve public policies in this region; offers an interactive open government data platform for dialogue between governments, citizens, developers and academics
- Open Government Partnership. A multilateral initiative that secures concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption and harness new technologies to strengthen governance
- Partnership for Open Data (POD). Global partnership to help policymakers and citizens in developing countries understand and exploit the benefits of Open Data
- School of Data. Organization that works to empower civil society organizations, journalists and citizens with the skills they need to use data effectively
- Social media channels. Follow #opendata,
- #opengov and#gov20 on Twitter
These links provide more information on Open Data demand and engagement:
- Harvard Business Review: ‘Open Data Has Little Value If People Can’t Use It’
- How to Guide: Open Data Hackathon
- How-To Notes: Towards Open Government Data for Enhanced Social Accountability
- World Bank Water Hackathon