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Demand and Engagement

Demand and Engagement

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

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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.  This includes Open Data Roadshows like those convened in countries across South Asia, Open Data Stakeholder Engagement Workshops, such as that held during the January 2014 announcement of Nigeria’s Open Data Initiative, and Open Data Journey narratives, like those in Kenya and Moldova which share country experiences in designing, launching, and maintaining an open data initiative.
  • The Business Case for Open Data Roundtable.  This high-level roundtable introduces the benefits of Open Data for social, economic, sustainable, and private sector growth and development, and attempts to catalyze leadership on both the supply- and demand-side of open data. 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. Examples include Open Data for Business Roundtables in Kazakhstan; Media Leaders Roundtables on ‘Open Data and the Future of News’ held in Ghana, Kenya, Nepal, Tanzania and South Africa; and open data socialization events, such as in Moldova to support planning and priorities for its open data initiative.
  • 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. Examples include Hacks/Hackers Scrape-a-thons, such as in East Africa where “scraped” data is hosted for free on civically owned and communally managed repositories, such as

Stage 2: Capacity Development

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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 and Master Classes. These intensive “learn-by-doing” workshops can range in duration from a few days to two or three months, as needed and useful for participants.  They 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, including in Ghana, Kenya, Nepal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Venezuela, and regional programs, such as in West Africa; Solve-a-thons, which combine data literacy, coding, and application development, such as in Nepal.
  • E-Learning on Open Data Literacy and Open Data Insights. The World Bank has developed a series of free, self-guided e-learning courses on open data for professionals, policymakers, and users of open data. Each course in the series is designed for a distinct group of learners. The courses provide technical skills, extensive examples and illustrative case studies, with an emphasis on open data in developing countries. These free courses include:
    1. Open Data for Data Producers provides a broad overview of Open Data principles and best practices for data producers. This course is primarily intended for managers and technical staff involved in the production, management, and curation of data, particularly within government ministries. It assumes no prior knowledge of Open Data or specific technical skills. Upon completion, users may take an online assessment test to obtain a completion certificate from the World Bank’s Open Learning Campus. Get started: Open Data for Data Producers (World Bank e-learning course) (en Espanol
    2. Open Data for Data Users is designed to provide a broad overview of Open Data from a user standpoint, and empower anyone to take full advantage of Open Data. This course is intended for anyone who wants to make better use of Open Data, including ordinary citizens, and assumes no prior knowledge of Open Data or technical skills. It is particularly intended for users in developing countries. Upon completion, users may take an online assessment test to obtain a completion certificate from the World Bank’s Open Learning Campus. Get started: Open Data for Data Users (World Bank e-learning course) (en Espanol
    3. Open Data for Policymakers is designed to provide a general overview of Open Data principles and best practices for public policymakers, with focus on the development and implementation of an Open Data program. This course is primarily intended for public policymakers in governments that are considering the establishment or expansion of an Open Data program. It provides users with the knowledge and background they need to lead or coordinate a multi-agency Open Data program, and to engage the Open Data community.  It assumes no prior knowledge of Open Data or technical skills.  Upon completion, users may take an online assessment test to obtain a completion certificate from the World Bank’s Open Learning Campus. Get started: Open Data for Policymakers (World Bank e-learning course) (en Espanol
    4. Introduction to the Open Data for Resilience Initiative provides an overview of the approach and toolset developed by the Open Data for Resilience Initiative. Major topics covered include the rationale and practices of the open data movement, tools for sharing geospatial data, community mapping and citizen science for disaster and climate risk management, and new approaches for communicating complex risk data to a range of stakeholders. It assumes no prior knowledge of Open Data or technical skills.  Upon completion, users may take an online assessment test to obtain a completion certificate from the World Bank’s Open Learning Campus. Get started: Introduction to the Open Data for Resilience Initiative (World Bank e-learning course).   
    5. Course on 2021 World Development Report: Data for Better Lives: This Massive Open Online Course covers key lessons and insights from the World Bank's 2021 World Development Report: Data for Better Lives in six modules.  It includes reflections and advice from 19 leading World Bank economists, data scientists, and other experts, and each module contains reading material, videos, quizzes, and other exercises to enable participants to gain knowledge on the role and importance of data for development.  Get started: Course on Data for Better Lives (World Bank e-learning course).    
    6. Open Nighttime Lights tutorial.  This tutorial is designed to help participants better understand the power of (openly and freely available) remote sensing data, as well as provide guidance on the tools to work with these data. These tutorials use Jupyter notebooks, which allow participants to combine written and visual content with executable code. The tutorial includes guidance on the software tools participants will need to use.  Participants need only a basic understanding of Python to benefit from this course.  Get started: Open Night Lights tutorial (World Bank e-learning course).

Stage 3: Use & Re-use

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The objective of Stage 3 is to harness Open Data in specific ways to address particular challenges and opportunities, and to 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 and Coding Bootcamps. Utility hackathons and coding bootcamps 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 pandemic responsecombatting gender-based violence, road safety, entrepreneurship, strengthening public service delivery, jobs and economic transformation, urban mobility, water quality and access and sanitationCoding Bootcamps typically focus more on intensive skills development, while similarly prioritizing the development and prototyping of civic or development applications, such as in Argentina, Colombia, Lebanon, and Kenya.
  • 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 Apps for DevelopmentApps for Climate, the Open Innovation Challenge, 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 stage, through prior mentorship and feedback) to angel investor-type funding to support start-up acceleration and/or build out and deploy scalable models. An example of partnership-driven engagement is the Africa News Innovation Challenge.  An example of start-up business acceleration is the XL Africa residency program.

Stage 4: Further Development

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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:

Open Data Organizations and Networks

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Organizations, user groups, blogs and other forums that advocate for and support Open Data and related priorities:

  • Access Info Europe.  Spain-based group which promotes the right of access to information in Europe
  • Asia Hub / Data for Development: Regional network which aims to improve availability and impact of open data and data for development in Asia
  • Caribbean Open Institute.  Regional coalition of individuals and organizations that promotes open development approaches to inclusion, participation and innovation in the Caribbean
  • Center for Open Data Enterprise (CODE).  US-based nonprofit organization working to maximize the value of open and shared data for the public good, by working with government agencies, businesses, nonprofits, and researchers
  • Development Gateway.  US-based research and advisory NGO which focuses incentives and barriers to data use, tool development to support data analysis, visualization, and management, and technical advice on data strategy and policy
  • Development Initiatives.  US-, UK-, and Kenya-based NGO focusing on data and evidence to end poverty, reduce inequality and increase resilience 
  • Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data.  Network of more than 700 private sector, academic and civil society organizations, and governments working to ensure that data can be put to good use to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals
  • Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN).  Network of more than 1000 members across national governments, non-governmental organizations, and international and private sector organizations working to end global hunger, help achieve food security, and improve global nutrition and sustainable agriculture
  • Global Spatial Data Infrastructure (GSDI) Association. Association that promotes international cooperation and collaboration on spatial data to better address social, economic and environmental issues
  • Governance Lab (GovLab), New York University.  US-based action research center focused on leveraging open data, and other technologies, to transform science and decision-making in the public interest
  • Guardian Datablog. Data-related news from UK-based media company
  • ILDA.  Non-governmental research program that seeks to promote and understand the use of open data in Latin America, and how data can serve societal development in the region and around the world
  • Institute for Development of Freedom of Information. Georgia-based NGO which works to support the development of an informed and empowered society for democratic governance.
  • Local Development Research Institute.  Kenya-based non-profit think tank which contributes to efforts by African governments to end extreme poverty, end hunger and reduce inequalities.
  • OECD Open Government Data project.  OECD initiative which seeks to progress international efforts on open government data impact assessment
  • Open Data Charter.  Collaborative initiative of more than 170 governments and organizations working to open up data based on a shared set of principles, focusing in particular on anti-corruption, climate action and pay equity.
  • Open Data Institute. U.K.-based organization that promotes Open Data through shared learning, research and training
  • Open Data Watch.  US-based non-profit organization working at the intersection of open data and official statistics to promote data openness and completeness.
  • 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
  • Open Institute.  Kenya-based non-profit organization which collaborates with governments, civil society organizations, citizen groups and private sector companies to find innovative ways to achieve Sustainable Development
  • Open Knowledge Foundation. UK-based 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
  • Pacific Community (SPC).  Regional scientific and technical NGO working to advance sustainable development in the Pacific. 
  • School of Data. Organization that works to empower civil society organizations, journalists and citizens with the skills they need to use data effectively
  • Worldwide Web Foundation.  UK- and US-based nonprofit organization working to advance the open web as a public good and a basic right
  • Social media channels. Follow #opendata#opengov on Twitter

Additional Reading

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These links provide more information on Open Data demand and engagement: