First Anniversary of the Open Data Policy Lab
A Selection of Activities, Achievements, and Future Priorities
Posted on 23rd of April 2021 by Andrew Young, Stefaan Verhulst, Andrew Zahuranec
When The GovLab launched the Open Data Policy Lab one year ago with support from Microsoft, we did so in a strange and uncertain world. Much of the planet had just entered lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Though there was significant appetite for new technologies and data to mitigate the effects of the disease, the lack of legal, policy, technical, and human infrastructure raised questions about whether organizations would be able to effectively leverage the potential of data.
The Open Data Policy Lab opened in this uncertain context as an observatory to support decision-makers at the local, state, and national levels who sought to open data assets and make them more accessible. We made it our mission to encourage the responsible reuse of data for the benefit of all society by lowering barriers to reuse and building a center of expertise available to all stakeholders involved in democratizing access to data. Given data’s potential, it is essential to find ways to provide functional access to data while protecting data subjects from harm.
We pursued these goals along four tracks, providing analysis on open data and data reuse; offering guidance to public- and private-sector leaders on systemic, sustainable, and responsible data use; nurturing a community of practice among data stewards; and initiating action to encourage collaboration, and sharing responsible data reuse best practices.
To mark a year of these activities, this blog reflects on key highlights, achievements, and lessons learned from the Open Data Policy Lab. In what follows, we focus on three key activities and share some thoughts on how we can build on these activities (and their findings) to further open data efforts around the world
The Summer of Open Data
One of the Open Data Policy Lab’s first initiatives was the Summer of Open Data. This three-month project, organized in collaboration with the Digital Trade & Data Governance Hub, Open Data Institute, the Open Data Charter, and BrightHive, considered the potential and risks of open data through the eyes of experts who have relied on it in local and regional governments, national statistical agencies, international bodies, and private companies. By seeking out these experts and their perspectives, we could take stock of what the open data movement has achieved to date, identify gaps in current approaches, and set goals for the future.
From July through September 2020, we spoke with 29 data professionals including public sector leaders such as Taiwanese Digital Minister Audrey Tang and London Chief Digital Officer Theo Blackwell. They also included private sector leaders like LinkedIn Head of Economic Policy Research & Insight Paul Ko and StreetLight Data Vice President of Commercial Development and Privacy Kara Selke. Civil society participants included people like Tanzania Data Lab Co-Founder Stephen Chacha and State Chief Data Officers Network Director Tyler Kleykamp.
Together, these leaders helped us not only to understand the challenges and opportunities data practitioners face every day but also how the open data movement might develop in the years to come. Participants spoke about their hopes to promote data skills among the public and decision-makers in order to ensure more people could be active contributors to data projects instead of just passive consumers. Many also spoke at length about the problems created by a lack of governance or guidance from the public sector. The legal and regulatory uncertainty around data collaboration created an environment where organizations were reluctant to share data for fear of exposing themselves or others to harm. Though specific responses varied, nearly all participants saw data as a useful tool in the areas they worked and identified opportunities for it to play an even greater role so long as assets were accessible, well-developed, and responsibly used.
The Emergence of a Third Wave of Open Data
Another key conclusion from our Summer of Open Data—and other activities—was a finding that we need a new approach to open data that builds on some positive, emerging trends. We call this approach the Third Wave of Open Data.
To explain this wave and its implications, the Open Data Policy Lab released a report, titled “The Emergence of a Third Wave of Open Data.” Incorporating the input of participants from the above activity, and supplemented by additional independent research, the report described previous waves of open data, identified their strengths and weaknesses, and sought to define the contours of a new approach that would build on lessons learned over the past two or three decades. In doing so, the report sets out an agenda for a new way forward: the Third Wave of Open Data.
Distinct from the first wave (which emerged from freedom of information laws) and the second wave (which emerged from national open data platforms), the Third Wave of Open Data is defined by four key goals. First, it seeks to “publish with purpose” by matching the supply of data with actual demand for it. Second, it seeks to foster partnerships by forging relationships between community-based organizations, NGOs, small businesses, local governments, and others who can use data for meaningful, real-world action. Third, it seeks to increase the capacities of sub-national actors like cities and provinces to ensure local governments have the information they need to make informed policies. Finally, it prioritizes data responsibility and the rights of the public whose information is often contained in datasets.
Our report identifies eight ways that organizations can pursue these goals and foster more data reuse within their organizations. In a supplement, The Third Wave of Open Data Toolkit: Operational Guidance on Capturing the Institutional and Societal Value of Data Re-Use, we operationalize our recommendations and provide organizations with guidance on how to implement the third wave. The document includes eight primers—explaining why each action is important, how the actions can be achieved, and what resources are available to support them—alongside a framework explaining how different processes feed into a third wave conception of data reuse.
The Third Wave of Open Data Framework
Acknowledging that data reuse is the result of many steps, this framework separates out each step, identifying the ways in which the data lifecycle factors into data collaboration; the way data collaboration in turn leads to the production of insights; the way insights foster conditions that enable further collaboration; and so on. This staged framework is designed to help policymakers and others better understand the processes by which data is created and used, and can lead to more effective and responsible data management throughout the data lifecycle.
Data Stewardship: Developing a Data Reuse Strategy for Solving Public Problems
As part of our third main activity, we established first-of-their-kind training and capacity-building offerings that synthesize a decade of The GovLab’s research and practice into a systematic, sustainable, and responsible strategy that would translate the reuse of data into tangible and lasting public value. In early 2021, we launched the first of these offerings, a new course titled Data Stewardship: Developing a Data Reuse Strategy for Solving Public Problems. Among other uses, the course helped train 20 high-ranking decision-makers from the public, private, and civil sector develop an actionable data reuse strategy for their institutions to help solve public problems. These decision-makers, whom we call “data stewards,” are intimately involved in shaping how data is collected, stored and used within their organizations and help shape policies and guidelines to balance the public good potential of data with risks to privacy and other challenges.
We held the course from January through April, virtually over Zoom with course candidates selected through a rigorous application process. Selected attendees included only those who served a leadership role in their organization and demonstrated a capacity to work across sectors. The course’s faculty included personnel from The GovLab and more than 30 data experts from around the world and across sectors. Among other modules, the course included tools and methodologies to help participants unlock the value of data to inform their day-to-day and strategic decision-making, with the goal of reusing data in the public interest. At the end of the course, each student successfully produced a data reuse strategy that offered a roadmap for their organizations.
Our intent from the beginning has always been to distribute these offerings as widely as possible. Course materials are now accessible to the general public, and can be used by anyone interested in advancing data stewardship within their organizations and developing a data reuse strategy to help solve public problems.
These represent but a sampling of the many activities we undertook this year. Among other projects, we also:
- Launched a new observatory called #Data4COVID19 that identifies, collects, and analyzes the value data can provide in addressing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic;
- Released a report with the OECD titled “Open data in action: initiatives during the initial stage of the COVID-19 pandemic” that examined the public sector’s response to COVID-19 in the early months of the pandemic;
- Worked with Cuebiq to analyze applications of mobility data for COVID-19 response and recommend ways to make future applications of this data more effective, sustainable, and responsible;
- Published various pieces on data portability, and on the right of individuals to obtain, copy, and reuse their personal data and transfer it between platforms and services;
- Produced a report on Contracts for Data Collaboration that demonstrates how a library of data-sharing agreements can demystify the agreement drafting process and facilitate inter-sectoral data collaboration; and
- Oversaw large additions and revisions to DataCollaboratives.org, a site which contains resources describing data collaboration and a repository listing notable data collaborative projects from around the world.
The Coming Year
Throughout the past year, the Open Data Policy Lab has tried to continue and expand its work even while navigating uncertain and rapidly changing waters. We plan to expand our offerings in the coming months. In particular, our goal is to build on our four tracks—analysis, guidance, community, and action—with new investments, new research, and a slew of new projects.
With regard to analysis, we plan to continue exploring the value of data and publish our research findings on the Open Data Policy Lab website. This work will include developing a concept paper that describes open data’s value as well as publishing a guide on how to successfully reuse data. It will also include further identifying and documenting case studies of responsible data reuse that demonstrate the emergence of the Third Wave of Open Data.
In the area of guidance, the Open Data Policy Lab will expand the Data Steward Academy’s online offerings to better foster a community of data stewards. We will offer curricula tailored to specific groups, such as state and local officials and individuals in low- and middle-income countries. These customized and expanded curricula will involve new facilitators and faculty, and offer new videos and materials to support participants on the issues they care about. In short, we want to make sure our academy is useful to a wide variety of leaders in data-driven organizations.
As part of our community-building efforts, The Open Data Policy Lab has forged relationships with numerous individuals and organizations, across geographies and sectors. In the coming months, the Lab will launch a platform over the upcoming year to further strengthen these ties. This platform will facilitate relationships between data stewards and encourage ongoing relationship-building between individuals. We hope the platform can socialize new and promising practices across organizations and sectors.
Finally, the Open Data Policy Lab will continue to act by creating new opportunities to collaborate and share responsible data reuse practices. A core part of this endeavor will be the 10 Open Data Cities, an initiative in which the Open Data Policy Lab will seek out key stakeholders in ten cities around the world and invite them to learn from each other, collaborate, and take part in gatherings that encourage ideation around data reuse. This effort will support larger attempts to build purpose-driven data collaboratives. Inspired by our 100 Questions Framework and other past projects, we want to help communities identify the issues they face and demonstrate how responsible data-reuse can address them.
As the Open Data Policy Lab enters its next year of operation, we are certain of only one thing: further uncertainty, and a data and wider social and political environment characterized by rapid flux and transformation. Throughout this uncertainty, we hold fast to a few core principles: that data should be widely accessible, and that it can be reused by those who need it--and who can contribute genuine public value--in a manner that is systematic, sustainable, and responsible. The world is awash in data, and in data sharing opportunities; we see it as our mission to ensure that the data community acts on these opportunities, and that the potential of data is unlocked.