A Response from Mark Wainwright on my ODI and OGP Blog Post:
From Mark Wainwright
I was interested to read your blog post about ODIs, the OGP and open data. It's good to know that people are on the back of the governments about ensuring they follow through with their Open Data commitments.
From Jason Hare
I welcome Mark's comments as well as those from the OKFN. Where I have represented the OKFN at large I have replaced that wording with OKFN Ireland. My comments are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization or company with which I am affiliated. I look forward to meeting my open data colleagues for a lively discussion on topics relating to the opening of government data. I am hoping the subject centers around governance rather than technology. Good policy always triumphs over technology.
MARK'S COMMENT 1:
"A couple of things you said surprised me. I don't know that, in the UK at least, the ODI is a watchdog of the government's transparency portal. For sure the ODI are doing great work - I'm just not sure that this is its role. It was established with a government grant of £2m a year for 10 years to expand the role that open data plays as an economic driver, e.g. by incubating open data startups. Their Open Data certificate programme is nice for raising a data publisher's visibility, but a watchdog bites burglars when they come through the door, not only when they hand over dog biscuits and ask to be bitten."
JASON'S REBUTTAL 1:
"If you look at the transparency board for the UK portal, the same people are managing the ODI in the UK. My exact wording, selected carefully, was an "indirect relationship" between the ODI and the transparency board for the UK portal. In talking with Gavin Stark, while the UK government is giving the ODIUK an annual subsidy up to £10m, the mission of the ODI is nation neutral. The ODI recently called the UK portal team on the carpet as to whether the portal is meeting its ultimate mission.
I see that as a nucleus for a model that all countries could adopt. There is not a necessary link between government funding and influence from the funding government. The ODI, in whatever country it operates, has guidelines and activities it is chartered to carry out. Here in the US we are proposing a Node 1 National ODI to help develop a certification service to bless national, state and local open data initiatives. The ODI USA will be running a similar mission. What I am advocating is a more direct relationship between the national ODI and a country's OGP action plan."
MARK'S COMMENT 2:
"Actually, probably the most effective Open Data watchdog in the UK specifically is the little-known but active and tenacious Open Data User Group , who have been instrumental in prising a steady stream of high-value datasets out of the grasp of government. Writing from the Open Knowledge Foundation, of course, I'd also like to mention the internationalist merits of the Open Data Census , which provides a comprehensive high-level overview of how well governments are responding to the Open Data agenda.
I was more surprised to learn that you see Socrata as 'independent' of data publishers such as governments! They provide a paid for service and if the government stops paying (or asks them to take the site down), the site will disappear. If in the scramble to shutdown, someone forgot to ask them to take their federal sites offline, that's great, but I'm not sure what it tells us about third-party provision in general. As a side note, of course, since CKAN is open source, anyone could set up the same PaaS model using CKAN tomorrow, if they wanted to. Indeed a number of providers (including us) do provide hosted CKAN portals, but as it happens the US federal government host their own. Socrata as a closed-source technology doesn't provide that choice; does that make it 'independent'?
Of course you're quite right that losing data.gov wasn't acceptable, but one could say the same about the rest of the shutdown too. Alas, fixing that will take more than a slight change of data portal technology or hosting model :-)"
JASON'S REBUTTAL 2:
"Socrata is simply a SaaS tool for hosting data. Like any piece of software or infrastructure It can be used by a government to publish any data that falls into the 7 or 8 data types and APIs that Socrata makes available. Socrata as an entity is agnostic to politics or directives. It does not advise governments on the quality of data or data governance any more than CKAN, Plone or any other platform. As an independent open data professional, I am technology agnostic. A government can take down or stop funding an open data portal hosted on any technology, including CKAN. During the US government shut down, the CKAN portion of data.gov went offline because it was hosted on US Federal infrastructure. The Socrata hosted websites of the US Federal government did not go down because Socrata has a pre-paid PO. The data portals with DHHS, for example, were up during the shutdown. The national ODI can put in measures to enforce the OGP by making platforms of open data independent of politics by ensuring national portals are not tightly coupled with short-term political turbulence. This is true for the UK (parties tend to flip fairly often), in Ireland and the US."
MARK'S COMMENT 3:
"Perhaps a more useful notion than independence here is resilience. If Socrata disappears tomorrow, say it goes bust, bang goes your data portal. On the other hand, if OKF is hosting your CKAN portal and goes bust, you can just go to one of the other companies that offers this service right now, and they can take over your hosted portal and even continue development on the open-source code. The open-source model and the APIs and harvesting help too: the open data community can set up their own CKAN sites and harvest official portals, providing mirrors of key datasets which will remain available no matter what the administration does. The community of people working on the CKAN code is already much larger than any one organisation, and as you may have seen in our recent announcement , we're keen to put this wider community in charge of the project on a more formal footing."
JASON'S REBUTTAL 3:
"Any technology and every company associated with technology changes and sometimes disappear. I could have a Linux desktop, a MacOS desktop or a Windows Desktop. I happen to choose Windows because I am used to it and things seem to run fairly well. CKAN and Socrata are relatively stable for the at least near term. I would not be overly concerned about which technology does what. In Ireland's case there is a sustainability model that comes with a Socrata portal and provides a quick turn-key solution to a country that is strapped for resources at the moment. The US uses CKAN but it too should be on a cloud independent from the infrastructure of the government. The triangle model has worked in the two states and 8 municipalities that I have built open data portals. This fall I will be participating in Open Colorado which is a CKAN-centric environment. Again, provenance is an issue and I will be asking citizens to link to open government data managed, but not hosted by, the SoS office of Colorado."
It would be a boring summit and one not worth attending if we all agreed on everything. I hope this debate is taken in the spirit of good will and open minds toward creating conversations that lead to real and permanent good.