Stay up-to-date with what we are doing


Moving from Open Data Policy to Action

Reflections from the Second Annual State of Open Data Policy Summit

Posted on 7th of June 2023 by Andrew Zahuranec, Hannah Chafetz, Stefaan Verhulst, Natalia González Alarcón

Moving from Open Data Policy to Action
Moving from Open Data Policy to Action

In recent years, open data has moved from being a dramatic reform to an expectation. While people might have once been satisfied with the kinds of simple, on-request Freedom of Information publications that defined the First Wave of Open Data or the broad, indiscriminate publications of open government data that defined the Second Wave, the public’s demands have changed. Now, more than ever, individuals are looking for evidence of impactful re-use of policies, practices, and procedures that can make a meaningful difference in their countries and communities. They want a third wave of open data.

This theme was what defined the Second Annual State of Open Data Policy Summit, held on Monday, 12 June 2023. For three hours, the Open Data Policy Lab hosted conversations with open data leaders at the top of their fields, across the public and private sectors. In these discussions, participants heard not only about existing practices to make open data policy impactful but also possible reforms that could be taken by governments, companies, and nonprofits to advance a third wave of open data internationally and across sectors.

While a full recording of the proceedings can be found linked to the images below or through the link here, this blog summarizes the ideas that emerged from each session of the summit. In providing this summary, we hope not only to educate readers on exciting developments but provide them with some inspirational models they can follow.

Keynote Address

Barry Lowry's Keynote Address

Click graphic for video

In our first session of the day, Summit participants heard from Barry Lowry, Chief Information Officer for the Government of Ireland. Since 2016, Lowry has been the central figure responsible for implementing the Government of Ireland’s digital agenda, working not only on open data but also digital ID and service delivery. Using a short presentation (available here), he spoke on the following:

  • With the youngest population and highest level of STEM graduates per capita in the European Union, Ireland has come to punch above its weight on open data. To ensure that citizens can access government services at a time and place that is convenient to them, successive governments have worked to build a data infrastructure that is conducive to sharing, a workforce that has the capabilities to harness data, and a governance framework that can guarantee trust among stakeholders. Part of this work has been, the official open data portal hosted by the Government of Ireland that gives Irish citizens the ability to understand the world around them. 
  • Ireland’s mission to promote openness has also been enabled by robust support from the European Union, whose directives on promoting openness by default and design, free reuse, and cross-border innovation have been incorporated into Irish law. In particular, Ireland—along with all other EU member states—has classified six categories of open data as “high-value datasets” to be made available free of charge by June 2024: statistics; earth observation and the environment; meteorological; geospatial; corporate and corporate ownership; and mobility. 
  • To build on what has been achieved thus far and remain true to Ireland’s focus on data openness, the country has developed a strategic response that puts open data at the center of its work on transparency, digital services, community engagement, public sector transformation, and evidence-based decision-making. The Irish government is working with academia, industry, and society to open datasets that are in the public interest.
  • Finally, Barry noted how Ireland’s strategy aligned with the Open Data Policy Lab’s concept of a Third Wave of Open Data. He noted, for example, how Ireland’s work to create a Data Officers Network supported the ODPL concept of empowering chief data stewards; how the governments case studies on open data helped it articulate value and build an impact evidence base; and how Ireland’s Open Data and Data Governance Boards were effective governance frameworks for open data.

Public Sector Panel: Open Data Policies in the Public Sector: Emerging Models of Openness


Click graphic for video 

The second session of the day expanded on Lowry’s remarks by drawing in additional examples of how the public sector was pursuing open data action. Moderated by The GovLab’s Stefaan Verhulst, a small panel consisting of Hilde Hardeman (Director-General, Publications Office of the European Union) and Otávio Moreira de Castro Neves (Diretor de Governo Aberto e Transparência of Brazil Government) reflected on their current work and their aspirations for the future. Specifically, they spoke on:

  • Hilde Hardeman spoke on how advancing the third wave of open data is central to the EU Publication Office’s core mandate of authenticating and publishing EU law and data and providing knowledge to the public at large. She described how much of the Office’s work involves engaging with public administrators to help them understand the value of the data they hold and think of new ways to use these assets. In an institution like the EU, common frameworks and standards were often valuable in “knitting together” administrators across member states. Bringing people together allowed individuals to promote their own good practices and seek out others.
  • Hilde went on to describe how the best path toward sophisticated demand and use was through a mix of laws and programs. She spoke about the importance of legal obligations in opening procurement and agriculture to innovation as well as the value of providing programs and funding capable of supporting those who might lack the resources to publish their data. Importantly, she emphasized how data openness was a global issue and while the current geopolitical situation did not lend itself well to openness and data sharing, “the EU tries to help through multiple ties in countries.” 
  • Meanwhile, Otávio talked about his focus on ensuring data was used in meaningful ways. Key to this work was promoting quality, working with those in the private sector and subnational governments, and trying to support partners on those issues that interested them. He noted, however, that responding to demand was often not as easy as it first appeared as traditional metrics—such as total number of downloads for a dataset—often did not capture all those interested in a dataset nor single downloads that proved to be especially effective. “What matters is having the right person downloading the right data,” said Otávio.
  • To stimulate more value from open data and foster a more robust open data community, Otávio called for more international standards on how to publish data in different sectors to allow for better comparisons and research. He argued that if there were more similar methodologies to collect and publish data, it might be easier to make comparisons. He also called for data stewards to foster better data collaboration, arguing “we need to have a person in each government agency that will manage collection and publication and will identify opportunities for working with data outside the agency.”
  • At the end of the panel, both Hilde and Otávio reflected on the possibilities offered by generative AI. Hilde noted that the EU was cautious on using it but was following its development very closely. While it had the potential to improve the way we ask questions and lead to richer questioning of datasets that are available, we needed to mitigate risks. Clearly, the potential of offering better services through generative AI was enormous. Otávio, meanwhile, argued that generative AI would play a critical role in the democratization of data. He said that Brazil was exploring its use in its transparency portal to reduce the seeming complexity of the government for the average citizen. 

Private Sector Panel: Open Data and Data Collaboration: Private Data for Public Good

Private Sector Panel

Click graphic for video

In the third session of the day, Summit participants were able to hear about emerging innovations in the private sector. Led by The GovLab’s Beth Noveck, Ioana Stoenescu (External Affairs & Personalized Healthcare Lead, Roche), Peter Rabley (Managing Partner, PLACE Trust), Jed Sundwall (Executive Director, Radiant Earth Foundation), Laura McGorman (Director for Data for Good, Meta), and Gretchen Deo (Director of Policy Outreach and Open Innovation, Microsoft) reflected on the reasons why the private sector provides access to their data, the value this could produce, and the challenges it presented. The panel included the following points:

  • Ioana opened the discussion by talking about two core challenges facing data use in the public and private sector. First, while much data is collected, most of it goes unused. Second, we tend to look into the secondary use of data, while the primary use of data is often not well-known, with the original data subject often being an afterthought. Ioana emphasized the need for companies to more meaningfully pursue consent and to inform data subjects of how their data is being used. In doing this, organizations can not just be responsible, but they can promote transparency and improve trust. She urged the private sector to publish information that is relevant for the public good and and, in cases of research, restrict sensitive data to only qualified researchers. She also highlighted the need of public and private sectors to invest in data literacy and development of data stewards.  
  • Peter Rabley spoke from his perspective managing PLACE–a large nonprofit focused on providing solutions for inefficiencies of high-resolution mapping. Currently, there are many areas where there is a lack of geospatial data (or “mapping deserts”). This is because governments struggle to produce data given competing budget constraints and tech companies purchase map data for areas with significant economic activity. This tends to create data deserts in the areas that most need these data.   To address this need, PLACE established a new data institution built around the concept of a  club good to help generate access to geospatial data and to place them in the public interest in a data trust. Additionally, Peter explained how important the concept of trust is to becoming  a successful intermediary. The government needs to not only trust the intermediary itself, but also how data users plan to use the data collected. 
  • Jed Sundwall discussed why Radiant Earth does not use the term “open data.” Jed explained that the term could be too abstract and that focusing too much on open data can distract from other aspects that make data more useful and impactful. For this reason Radiant Earth uses the term  “data product,” which guides them to think about the data product’s  purpose, users, and associated costs to create and distribute. Additionally, Jed explained the importance of designing good data products, which means that they need to have associated data governance frameworks, be reliably available, well documented, and trusted. This includes finding avenues to make the data readily available (e.g. cloud based storage), documenting the lineage, and having Data Stewards as data product managers.
  • Laura described how Meta’s Data for Good work emerged both from a sense of corporate responsibility and early product development work. She noted how, in the process of building up high-resolution population density maps for connectivity investments, for example, the company discovered how it could fill various needs for various groups and not just support one-off, internal research. Meta expanded many of these operations during the pandemic which, in addition to filling a social need, improved Meta’s reputation, and improved job satisfaction and retention among employees involved. Laura emphasized how the interests of companies like Meta and the public good aligned.
  • Gretchen Deo spoke on the path to establishing a coordinating function for data stewardship. She described how, in 2020, Microsoft launched its Open Data Campaign to highlight the need for more open data. To help make the process of opening and sharing data easier, the Open Innovation team at Microsoft established an “Office of Open Data” to serve the data stewardship function. The group is able to answer questions about using data for innovation, reduce barriers to innovating with data, provide training, and offer opportunities to “name and fame” open data advocates. Gretchen also spoke on the ways in which Microsoft employed privacy-preserving techniques through these processes in its collaborations. 
  • Finally, the session closed with a brief tour de table in which panelists offered recommendations on ways to accelerate data collaboration over the forthcoming year. Ioana and Jed spoke about the importance of teaching data literacy and stewardship to help others understand the value, opportunities, and challenges of data. Laura emphasized the need for organizations to focus on their comparative advantages and think of what unique values they offered to others across sectors. Gretchen called for researchers and organizations to look more into the possibilities offered by generative AI and how it and other tools could facilitate greater use of data. Peter looked at the need to scale efforts and ensure that “stranded data” can be meaningfully used by those who might need it.

Closing and Final Reflections


Click graphic for video

Finally, to close out the Summit, Stefaan offered four major takeaways that cut across the sessions. To promote action in line with the third wave of open data, open data advocates can focus on:

  • Culture: Throughout the conversations, participants spoke on the existence of competing cultures in the public and private sector. This mismatch has impeded how groups communicate and understand one another, making it hard, for example, for organizations to understand why others pursue open data. To foster more trust and openness, we need to cultivate a common vision for using data for good;
  • Products, Processes, and Positions: Participants also alluded generally to the costs associated with open data. To reduce these, there is an urgent need to think about the ways that different products, processes and positions can lower these. Organizations should try to identify new business models and new sources of funding. They should look at the ways that data stewards and similar positions can reduce opportunity costs and better coordinate data collaborative efforts.
  • Identifying Common Questions and Assets: Throughout discussions, participants alluded to the difficulty in pursuing work on certain topics. Those in need of data did not know which types of datasets could provide them the most value while those with data did not necessarily know which types of questions could be answered with their resources. By articulating the supply and demand, organizations might better work together. 
  • Networking and Fostering a Global Conversation: The discussions throughout the day further reinforced the need for better networking and conversation around open data. As multiple panelists urged, we need to speak in terms others understand. We need to communicate what our motivations are and to be clear what the incentives to collaborate are. Only through clear communication can we promote trust and come to a consensus about where and how the private and public sector can work together.


The Second Annual State of Open Data Policy Summit offered participants an opportunity to hear from experts across the world and across sectors about ways we can promote meaningful action on open data. While each context is different, their reflections offer a handful of ways forward that open data advocates can use in their own work.

We hope you found these conversations as productive as we did. In addition to reading the reflections above or watching the video recordings, we encourage you to follow the Open Data Policy Lab as it pursues these topics. Sign up for updates on our activities here and learn more about the third wave of open data here.

Back to the Blog

Supported by