Pushing for Open Data? 3 Steps to Consider
Open Data is fast becoming a ‘hot topic’ in government. I’m proud to see my colleagues & fellow open gov supporters helping governments around the world launch their cloud-powered open data catalogues: from the Government of Columbia and the European Union, to the Canadian cities of Regina, SK and Medicine Hat, AB. But it’s not all, as they say, Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows.
My recent involvement with the failed Open Data resolution in Milton, Ontario caused me to re-think some of the basics for a successful open data initiative. Taken from a municipal open data initiative perspective, the 3 steps below will help make an open data, open government or open data motion stick:
I cannot overemphasize the importance of this step. From some of the basics like the difference between data vs information, to the definition of open data and its principles, to a bit more concise and easy-to-understand laws of open government data – the politicians (mayor, council, MPs, etc.) and the staff (city manager, CIO, IT manager, etc.) really benefit from being on the same page when it comes to open data. This helps address confusion and questions like: “Aren’t we already open? Don’t we already share all this information?!”
According to Jonathan Brun from MONTRÉAL OUVERT, it took Three public meetings and Two open data hackathons and a collaborative approach to educate bureaucrats and politicians about Open Data over the course of 14 months. Montreal approved the open data motion and launched its open data catalogue last year.
Politicians and staff need to have a level of comfort around understanding benefits, costs and risks of open data. Whether perceived or real, many factors influence how various stakeholders feel about open data: politicians may feel benefits don’t justify the potential time and effort to implement, management may have concerns around liability around use, accuracy or privacy, IT may fear costs of IT infrastructure to support, and staff may see issues with costs of keeping the data up-to-date. All of these need to be surfaced and discussed.
A cautious approach, is better than no approach. An assessment or a pilot like the one undertaken by the City of Burlington helps provide the city staff with “real” costs of running an open data initiative, which in term informs the council and opens up fact-based discussions via appropriate public forums on the pro’s and con’s of going through with open data. This keeps everyone informed an in the comfort zone that nothing “drastic” is going to happen while the city makes the transition.
Not everyone in the government will agree on every aspect of open data benefits, costs or risks. That’s why it’s critical to build a local community of supporters and engage politicians. This way, at critical moments (a.k.a. the BIG vote) there is a constituency that can be mobilized to drive towards a positive outcome. Engaging with public servants is also critical, because politicians (councillors, mayor, etc.) often rely heavily on staff for advice and counsel. If the staff is opposed or confused, it will work against you.
That’s the advice shared by David Eaves, as he worked though Vancouver’s political parties at the local level to brief the mayor and the councillors. This helped build consensus and secured a positive outcome in the vote on the Vancouver Open 3 Motion
These steps don’t make or break an open data initiative. But they can shorten the time it takes to push through an open data motion or bring an open government initiative to a fruition sooner. Have other ideas of what steps are critical for success? Let me know @Nik_G!