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Summer of Open Data

Panel #1: Kick-Off

What Are The Contours of The Third Wave of Open Data?

Posted on 22nd of July 2020 by Andrew Zahuranec

Panel #1: Kick-Off
Panel #1: Kick-Off

Today, The Open Data Policy Lab is delighted to release the kick-off panel of our Summer of Open Data including three of the project’s sponsors: The Open Data Institute; Open Data Charter; and BrightHive. Check out a summary or view the video below.

The Summer of Open Data

The Summer of Open Data is a three-month project spearheaded by the Open Data Policy Lab (an initiative of The GovLab with support from Microsoft) in partnership with the Digital Trade & Data Governance HubOpen Data Institute, the Open Data Charter, and BrightHive to jump start an exploration into the third wave of open data that addresses data gaps and is fueled by enhanced data collaboration.

Experts in local and regional governments, national statistical agencies, international bodies, and private companies will join us to advance our understanding of how to establish a vision of open data that is focused on collaboration, responsibility, and purpose. Specifically we will focus on the re-use of public and private data through data collaboratives deemed relevant for local communities, NGOs, academics, and other civic actors.

The Kick-Off Panel

Led by The GovLab’s Co-Founder and Chief Research and Development Officer Stefaan Verhulst, the leaders from the initiative’s partner organizations — Matt Gee (BrightHive), Ania Calderon (Open Data Charter), and Jeni Tennison (Open Data Institute).

The panel focused on the key contours, opportunities and challenges of the Third Wave of Open Data. Distinguished by its interest in opening up data silos, the third wave emphasizes the importance of responsibly reusing public and private data held by local governments and businesses through the use of partnerships. It emphasizes the importance of making data accessible to more than just the “usual suspects” — journalists, lawyers, and civic technologists — and additionally seeking ways to make data useful to community-based organizations, NGOs, academics, and small businesses.

The full conversation can be found in the video below, along with a summary of major highlights.


Open Data in an Age of COVID-19

The panelists began by discussing these needs within the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Though the abundance of data defines our current data age, there exist tremendous inequalities when it comes to data access and re-use. These problems make responding to the crisis difficult, as relevant assets are not accessible to those who need them.

“Data held at the national level can be very useful at the local level. When you don’t make that available, you are making it harder for organizations to respond,” said Jeni Tennison, vice president, and chief strategy adviser at the Open Data Institute. “Devolution and giving local government control over what they can use and collect, particularly when working with private-sector actors, is something we need to do more of.”

Organizations such as ODI Leeds have proven critical in pioneering open data innovation at a city scale. Toolkits, such as those produced by the Open Data Institute, can be useful in helping organizations manage, publish, and use data.

Addressing crises also depends on promoting data responsibility, noted Executive Director of the Open Data Charter Ania Calderon. Referencing Martin Tisné’s recent essay on collective harms, The Data Delusion, she noted, “The open data community has sometimes not sufficiently balanced its arguments for publishing against risks. […] It is crucial we take the learnings from our current [COVID-19] context to understand sharing data in ways that are responsible and ethical.”

She then advocated a feminist approach to data production and use by seeking out input from communities that have traditionally not held positions of power. In line with a recent publication in Nature, she noted the need for data practitioners not to ask whether tools like artificial intelligence are good but how they shift power.

Both Jeni and Ania spoke to the value of data in addressing the pay gap.

Publishing with Purpose

These points related to another major aspect of the Third Wave of Open Data: publishing with purpose. As the Open Data Charter describes it, publishing with purpose refers to a process in which organizations release data to target specific policy problems instead of opening up isolated datasets with little relevance to the pressing issues faced by society.

“At the Open Data Charter, we advocate for governments to focus their data publishing efforts to be guided by purpose […] acknowledging that context really matters. We don’t treat health data the same as transportation data because there’s different risks involved. People might feel comfortable with certain types of data being shared for certain purposes and not others,” said Ania Calderon.

“Examples of[publishing with purpose] for COVID-19 abound. In collaboration with the OECD, we’ve called for governments to develop meet-ups that engage communities in terms of how they want to use data and for what particular issue.”

She then emphasized the value of The GovLab’s 100 Questions Initiative, which seeks public input as part of its effort to identify the 100 most important questions that address some of the world’s most complex problems that could be answered by data, and digital meetups, which The GovLab and the Open Data Charter have sought to promote during the pandemic.

Applications of this approach in places like New Zealand have offered significant insights.

Matt Gee, co-founder, and CEO of Brighthive, echoed the need to center purpose. “What we’ve learned in what we’ve done is that saying there’s a lot of potential is insufficient in getting organizations to take on work and risks. You have to anchor data in the golden use case that aligns everyone’s interests.”

He provided an example of the value of this approach with the T3 Innovation Network, an effort led by the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation and supported by more than 400 organizations to improve the use of data and emerging technologies in the areas in which the participants work.

Jeni, in turn, spoke about the Open Data Institute’s work with the Wellcome Trust, which took a publish with purpose approach to healthcare-related issues. The project identified which topics — whether those be snake bites or mental health treatment — people most needed data on. She also described the Open Data Institute’s OpenActive initiative, which improved physical activity by giving people information about where they could

“[We asked] who needs this data and what do they need it for?” She said.

Barriers to Access

Lastly, the panelists provided their take on what they considered to be the biggest barriers to promoting a more holistic vision of open data that reuses data held by local governments and the private sector in an ethical, responsible fashion.

The panelists had different takes on this question.

“Our legislation and policies are insufficient to respond to the nuances we are seeing in terms of how data is being used, abused, and informing policy decisions,” argued Ania. “We need to design new frameworks and look at things like data trusts to ensure information is fairly distributed in ways that are trustworthy.”

Matt Gee spoke on the issue of culture, noting: “In government, often there is a zero-sum data culture where, if I give you data, I lose power. In the private sector, it is extractive. I think we might look at the barriers and ask ourselves how we can shift data culture en masse.”

Lastly, Jeni spoke about the importance of centering and maintaining the “open” in “open data” while acknowledging the broad spectrum of access to data (given the sensitive nature of some).

“What I’ve seen is that we are getting more used to talking about the nuances in access,” she said. “But sometimes with all this nuance we really forget the power of open. […] If we lose ourselves in the nuance, we will lose ourselves in the real benefit of actual open data and open licenses.”

Next Panel

The Summer of Open Data will continue these conversations in the weeks and months to come.

Our next panel will bring together:

  • Paul KoHead of Economic Policy Research & Insights at LinkedIn;
  • Justine HastingsProfessor of Economics and International and Public Affairs at Brown University and Founding Director of Research Improving People’s Lives; and
  • Denise Linn Riedl, Chief Innovation Officer for the City of South Bend, Indiana.

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