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Summer of Open Data

Panel #5

Data Reuse, Service Delivery, and Horizontal Silos

Posted on 19th of August 2020 by Andrew Zahuranec

Panel #5
Panel #5

Panelists, clockwise from top left: Arturo Muente Kunigami (Inter-American Development Bank); Malarvizhi Veerappan (World Bank); Jaimie Boyd (British Columbia); and Stefaan Verhulst (The GovLab)

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:

In a 45-minute conversation, Stefaan and the panelists spoke on a variety of issues, including the dangers of horizontal data silos, diverse models for data collaboration, and the perspective that subnational actors can bring to data reuse.

The full conversation, as well as a brief overview of highlights, is below:


Untapped Data and Reused Data

Much of data’s value remains untapped. As the forthcoming World Bank’s World Development Report 2021 will argue, data is often collected by one party for a singular purpose. Yet, these assets might be useful for other purposes that the original collector could not anticipate.

The challenge is convincing organizations to make these assets available. In the opening of the conversation, Malar Veerappan of the World Bank described the importance of understanding why this was the case.

“Understanding these barriers better is essential for making data reuse work for all populations,” she said. “Some of these barriers range from misaligned incentives to disorganized and incompatible data systems and I think one of the most foundational issues is the fundamental lack of trust.”

“And this lack of trust stems from many concerns about personal data protection, surveillance, misinformation, attacks on data systems, and potential abuses of market power in databases.”

Malar stated these problems could be addressed by developing national data systems supported by data governance frameworks capable of allowing data flows usable by a wide variety of stakeholders at the national and subnational level.

“When we talk about data governance frameworks, what we mean by that is frameworks that enable use and reuse of data but also the frameworks that create safeguards that mitigate risks from harmful outcomes.”

To build this framework, she stated governments needed to develop policies, laws and regulations; infrastructure; and people and institutions. Though there was a diversity of operational and governance models that countries could use, she cited the emergence of data trusts and data custodians as approaches that might prove useful.

Sub-National Actors and Service Delivery

Following these remarks, Jaimie Boyd spoke about her experiences operating within Canada’s federal structure and the ways in which data informed public services there. Based on her previous experience as Director of Open Government for the Government of Canada and her current role as Chief Digital Officer for British Columbia, Boyd thought the daily obligations of service delivery made data essential for local and provincial governments.

“It’s fascinating to work in a local government because we are so much closer to service delivery for real people,” said Jaimie. “The services we are providing are very intimate so things like data stewardship are not things just things we want to think about. They are immediate needs that are urgent on a daily basis.”

She explained that these obligations require open data and open government to achieve more than accountability and transparency. Open data also needs to be used to foster innovation and better the lives of people.

“We are a lean government so we don’t have a lot of resources to pump out data for the sake of data and hope that maybe someone will find that dataset and maybe they’ll create [something from it]. No, we’re very much demand driven.”

She added, “It’s important to have conversations about what is most valuable, what is going to link into the service delivery for British Columbia,” she added.

While achieving these goals, Jaimie explained the need to also mitigate risks. She and her colleagues managed data with an awareness of the mosaic effect, the potential of large, disparate datasets to violate privacy when compiled. She also spoke about the need to think about the social implications of data use and the ability of an agile team to respond to rapidly evolving circumstances.

Vertical and Horizontal Barriers

Arturo Muente-Kunigami then spoke about what he saw as additional barriers to data sharing.

In his view, many experts recognized the existence of vertical silos preventing data from being used across sectors toward a singular purpose, such as open data. However, few recognized the creation of horizontal silos — those barriers preventing the use of datasets for different purposes.

These horizontal silos could manifest within organizations and in a broader field.

“I think that in our effort […] to cross-cut vertical silos that we’ve created horizontal silos. […] There are many conversations out there that include data, that are based on data. [These actors] are not necessarily talking to each other.”

The COVID-19 pandemic brought this problem to the fore, Arturo argued. Given the stakes of the current crisis, governments need holistic response efforts built on coordination between all the layers of data use. The open data, data protection, and cybersecurity communities need to talk to one another and incorporate one another’s findings into their work.

While part of this coordination relies on building inter-organizational trust, Arturo stated that it also depends on fostering data quality and talent.

“The first two waves have all been pushing the publication of data arguing […] even if you publish poor quality data, the publishing will itself increase the quality of the data. But it hasn’t been that automatic and fast and dynamic as we expected,” said Arturo.

Referencing a recent survey of AI applications in Latin America, he noted that, according to AI entrepreneurs in the region, two key factors enabling success and inhibiting growth were the same: quality of data and talent. This finding, he thought, could be extrapolated to the entire data community.

Major Takeaways

The panel ended with Stefaan asking each panelist what they considered to be the most transformative intervention that could facilitate a third wave of open data.

Malar responded by arguing for a more demand-driven approach to data. She noted, “COVID-19 presents a very interesting scenario. You see websites coming up on a daily basis reporting on data […] that’s generated through the demand.”

The GovLab has created a living repository of data-driven projects about the pandemic, in part, to track the evolution of this demand.

Jaimie made a similar point and spoke about the need to center data use on the communities that need services.

“If I could change one thing about how we use data, it would be that we truly take a user-based approach, a people-centric approach to delivering on these services.” said Jaimie. “Because providing data is a service. It’s not a neutral activity. It’s something that has deep, deep implications for our communities [and] for our rights in a digital world.”

Arturo closed out the discussion by emphasizing the importance of education and communication.

“[We need to] show and demonstrate that these conversations have an impact on economic growth and quality of life,” he said. “This is not a fairy tale. This is not a nice to have. This is not something that would look nice. This actually improves the lives of people. This actually improves equity. This actually produces economic growth.”

Next Panel

The Summer of Open Data will build on these points in the weeks and months to come. Our next panel will bring together:

  • Rhiannan PriceMaxar Technologies Director of Sustainable Development Practice;
  • Stephen ChachaCo-Founder Tanzania Data Lab and Africa Philanthropic Foundation; and
  • Theo BlackwellLondon Chief Digital Officer.

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