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Summer of Open Data

Panel #2

Data Re-Use from Local Government to the Corporate Sector

Posted on 29th of July 2020 by Mary Ann Badavi, Andrew Young, Andrew Zahuranec, Stefaan Verhulst

Panelists, clockwise from top left: Stefaan Verhulst, The Govlab; Paul Ko, LinkedIn; Denise Linn Reidl, City of South Bend, Indiana; Justine Hastings, Research Improving People’s Lives

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 Hub, Open Data Institute, the Open Data Charter, and BrightHive. Each week, we speak with data experts in local and regional governments, national statistical agencies, international bodies, and private companies to advance our understanding of how to establish a vision of open data focused on collaboration, responsibility, and purpose.

The Panel: Moderated by The GovLab’s Co-Founder and Chief Research and Development Officer Stefaan Verhulst, the cross-cutting panel featured:

  • Denise Linn Reidl, Chief Innovation Officer of the City of South Bend, Indiana
  • Paul Ko, Head of Economic Policy Research & Insights, LinkedIn
  • Justine Hastings, Founding Director, Research Improving People’s Lives (formerly Rhode Island Innovative Policy Lab); Professor of Economics and International and Public Affairs at Brown University

The panel focused on the differences of data re-use across sectors, lessons learned from open data initiatives, and potential innovations for data collaboration. Panelists discussed topics within the broader context of the Third Wave of Open Data, a purpose-driven and responsible approach to data collaboration through cross-sector partnerships.

You can view the full panel conversation, as well as a brief overview of highlights, below:

Highlights

The conversation began with a discussion on the difference between data innovation on a national versus subnational level. While large cities such as New York City and Chicago created nationally recognized open data initiatives due to provide government datastreams to the public, smaller local governments are still working to make the case for it. Denise Linn Reidl, Chief Innovation Officer from the City of South Bend, Indiana, shared that her team created an open data initiative more proactively.

“Our ecosystem is still evolving […] We’re trying to lead with a lot of local organizations, nonprofits, local media, to get them to use the data. I think sub-nationally, cities have taken major strides.”

Paul Ko agreed. Reporting that in his team’s collaborations with local governments, he noted, “We’ve seen accelerations on all fronts on open data initiatives but it is uneven. We see a patchwork of frameworks…. I’m not sure we’ve achieved sophistication yet in the United States.”

Justine Hastings noted local governments often have large amounts of data but getting insights from the data can be challenging. Insights can require an arduous coding process.

The panelists then discussed how data reuse and collaboration can take many forms, as indicated by The GovLab’s recent report providing a typology of data collaboratives. When asked about data sharing and collaboration, each panelist described their experiences with different methods for systematic, sustainable, and responsible data collaboration across organizations and sectors.

Hastings described the concept of a Research Data Lake for partnership, a cloud-based solution for quickly querying data to make policy decisions.

“The code constantly transforms the back-end data into usable format for insights that’s ready for use. For SNAP data, which has an unwieldy backend […] if you wanted to find the average spend down rate for each person, that might take you six months of work to figure out. But if you just made a feed of data, and wrote that code once as software, you could have a table of [that] information.”

Denise Linn Reidl said that for her work, national networks like Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities program and the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership have been helpful in “leaning on the expertise of peers as they try to evolve on the open data front.”

She also talked about forming unofficial relationships with cities similar in size and resources in order to compare notes and share lessons learned.

Paul Ko mentioned that during the COVID-19 crisis, he has seen more demand for data than ever. Throughout the crisis, new data sharing initiatives in cities had progressed rapidly on all levels. He cited New York City’s Recovery Data Partnership as an example of a promising cross-sector data partnership aimed at rapidly unlocking distributed capacity for the response effort.

Next, the discussion moved to the frameworks in which collaborations take place and the relationships needed between actors. When describing her organization’s model for data sharing, Hastings stressed that a key element of this model is a data use agreement.

“What is great about these solutions is that governments actually own the platform, so now, if I am a partner, I don’t sign a data sharing agreement, I sign a platform use agreement,” said Hastings. “Once you give data to someone else, you lose control over it. But with cloud computing, you can have easy, seamless access. It lowers the barriers to access to have a data-use agreement instead of a data-sharing agreement.”

Paul Ko emphasized the need to establish a framework for potential partnerships based on the needs of the organizations and sensitivity of data. He also highlighted The GovLab’s Contracts for Data Collaboration work to provide insight into current practice regarding inter-organizational and inter-sectoral legal and governance frameworks.

“A luxury for LinkedIn is that [the data] doesn’t have to be that sensitive. For example, our aggregated hiring rate doesn’t have that much sensitivity, so our legal agreement can be much more fluid. But other firms have obstacles in terms of what they’re able to share, so those frameworks are really key.”

The panelists agreed that open data wasn’t useful without trust from the public. Hastings raised the point that many high-profile stories about data harm public trust. “There’s a lot of work out there that gets people’s hopes down, that gets people worried. We hear about Cambridge Analytica but not necessarily what’s happening with high school students in Rhode Island.”

However, she highlighted that the current COVID-19 crisis, and the open data efforts around addressing it that Ko described, has changed that narrative somewhat. “Obviously the crisis is horrible, but it has opened a window into demonstrating how data can help and has encouraged people to be a little risk taking, to think about the opportunities of success and not just the opportunities for failure.”

Ko said that LinkedIn’s work was driven by providing information that users could take action on. “In the incentives structure for LinkedIn, it’s well-aligned with open data. Giving people information to find jobs is really the basis on which LinkedIn operates. [Putting] it in the public sphere and not put up into these silos is extremely important for our group and for other firms that want to support open data initiatives.”

Reidl echoed the importance of data enabling the public to take action. “Releasing data is not necessarily transparency. It is also about making data workable and accessible,” she said. “It means working with your team and even external stakeholders to make products that are accessible and user friendly for your audience. There are a lot of paths to transparency that are not just releasing data into a void.”

Next Panel

Our series will continue next week with a keynote conversation with Audrey Tang, Digital Minister of Taiwan. Video of the conversation will be posted on Wednesday, August 5, 2020.

The Summer of Open Data, and our discussion around the Third Wave of Open Data, will continue over the next several weeks. To learn more and get involved, visit us at opendatapolicylab.org or participate in the conversation by tweeting with the hashtags #SummerOfOpenData and #3rdWaveOpenData.

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