Identifying and Aligning Jurisdictional Requirements and Best Practice International Standards for Open Data


Ireland Starts the Open Data Journey with an RFT

The national Open Data initiative for Ireland is part of the emerging innovation trend in open government data and apps. Government is essential to providing the critical services that keep communities safe, viable, and growing, ranging from public safety to education to health policy. Governments drive the core services that impact the day to day lives of most citizens.

Trends in Open Data Initiatives: OGP and CSO influences

Like Ireland, 61 member countries of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) use various CSOs (Civil Society Organizations) to consult on the long range vision and ultimate strategy toward an open data initiative. To a much lesser degree, the United States at the Federal level and local jurisdictions have been much less thorough in developing, maintaining and consulting with CSOs.

Recently, the City of Raleigh has decided to let the Open Data Steering Committee, our local CSO, comment and make recommendations of the Open Data Policy Framework that the city will eventually adopt as part of its open data governance model.

Cities like Charlotte, NC, the State of North Carolina and all other jurisdictions should be looking at the current events regarding the Irish National Open Data Initiative as an example of developing an inclusive governance model regarding open data.

Open Data is Access, Open Data is not Open Source nor Open Government

Open Data is the idea that data should be freely available for everyone to access, use and republish as they wish, published without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control. Public sector information made available to the public as open data is termed ‘Open Government Data’. Open data is not open source nor is it open government. Certainly one can use open source platforms and can base an open government program using open data. Semantically, the difference is important. The idea of open data should not be tied to a technology track. Open data is a philosophy of "open" in the sense that government will make data open "by default".

Tangible Benefits and Outcomes from Open Data

Governments and their contractors collect a vast quantity of high-quality data as part of their ordinary working activities. Typically this results in the state becoming a powerful data monopoly able to structure and homogenize the interactions between itself and its citizens. These one-sided interactions are expensive and unresponsive to citizens’ needs and can unnecessarily restrict government activities, as well. Opening government data involves both policy and technical considerations. If governments’ data is made open, it can have huge potential benefits including:
  • Transparency: In a well-functioning, democratic society citizens need to know what their government is doing. To do that, they must be able freely to access government data and information and to analyze and share that information with other citizens.
  • Efficiency: Enabling better coordination and efficiency within government, by making data easier to find, analyze and combine across different departments and agencies.
  • Innovation: In a digital age, data is a key resource for social and commercial activities. Everything from catching a bus to finding a doctor depends on access to information, much of which is created or held by government. By opening up data, government can help drive the creation of innovative business and services that deliver social and commercial value.

Where many public records laws and policies regulating the right to information have traditionally relied on reactive disclosure, meaning public information has to be requested before it is shared, a government fully engaged in open data is choosing to proactively disclose information. This means public data is released as it is collected and before it is requested. The idea of proactively making data available is to create what Tim O’Reilly has coined 'government as a platform'. Citizens will now have data as they need it, avoiding the delay in making a request to government. This also creates a 'data as infrastructure' and 'data as a strategic asset'. 

These two ideas fuel a data ecosystem beyond transparency and into sustainable data markets. The vision of open data is for government information to be ‘open by default’. Open data also has a number of technical implications, with special consideration given to the particular formats chosen for data release. Open formats are those that are structured and non-proprietary, allowing the public and the government to extract maximum value from the information now and in the future.

Open Data Best Practices in Practice

Governments around the world cite many different reasons for starting open data initiatives, including increasing government transparency and accountability, catalyzing the creation of new digital services and applications for citizens, unlocking the full economic potential of public information, and evolving current government services for anticipated future needs. Although much of this top-level government interest is new, there are many professions and communities engaged in dialogue, policy, and development around this issue, including from government officials, journalists, developers, transparency reformers, issue advocates, and interested citizens.

My experience and training in "Open Data in Practice" as defined by The Open Data Institute led to the creation of an ideology around open data as a strategic asset owned by the people. The technology, partisan politics and social issues are all agnostic to the process of making data accessible in usable, non-proprietary, re-usable formats.

The Open Data Institute (ODI) now has a node in North Carolina and is charted by The Open Data Institute in London. The Open Data Institute of North Carolina (ODINC) advises on Platform as a Service (PaaS) solutions for open innovation and sustainable entrepreneurship and an associated national data ecosystem. 

The ODINC partners with public and private sector organizations within and outside of North Carolina to accomplish its executive plan. The ODINC also supports a move from a one-sided data monopoly by the state to a two-sided macro-economic model driven by the market and entrepreneurs. 

By involving the private sector as civil society, jurisdictional open data initiatives will be leaders among other jurisdictions that traditionally have kept open data in-house and hard to re-use. The ODINC also recommends developing open data institutions that have survivability in regards to politics. Elected leaders need to honor legislation that permits the development of “open by default” as a government cultural value.


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