As many of you may know, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) just held its global summit earlier this month in Paris, France. As this is OpenDataSoft’s home base, it was only natural for us to attend, and what an event it was! Throughout the week of OGP 2016, the theme of effective communication as a key to successful Open Government emerged, and represented one of our main takeaways from the summit. This article will be a bit of a recap of our participation during the summit! But first, a brief introduction to what the OGP is.
For those of you not familiar with it, the OGP is a “multilateral initiative” working with governments towards four common goals:
- Greater transparency
- Citizen empowerment
- Fight against corruption
- Strengthened governments through new technologies
The partnership was originally launched in 2011, and has since expanded to 75 participating countries. France joined in 2014, and became co-president earlier this year (hence the summit taking place in Paris). Under French leadership, some of the main goals this year will include expansion of the OGP to the larger Francophone world, and raising the bar on Open Data.
Open Data – one of the keys of Open Government
The OGP 2016 Summit saw a large number of associated pre-events in its lead up, with focuses on a whole host of themes. We directly participated in two: the Local Government Open Data Forum, and our very own Open Gov Gathering.
The Local Government Open Data Forum had, as its name implies, a clear focus on the potential of Open Data at the local level. Our CEO, Jean-Marc Lazard, spoke during the first round-table, entitled “Local, Public Open Data and Concessions: How To.” During this session, it was stated that the city is a database that is entirely overlooked. This serves as a reminder of the conference’s overall theme: data have a lot of potential, but not if they remain locked up in administrative drawers. It is up to actors in local government, as well as ecosystem partners in energy and transportation, to open up their data so that they can be used to their greatest potential, for the benefit of the common interest.
In addition to this session, we hosted the French Ministry of Higher Education and Research as well as the Portuguese Ministry of Health to talk about driving impact with an Open Data project during our Open Gov Gathering. In listening to these two ministries talk about their experiences with Open Data, the theme emerged about the importance of effective communication.
Both ministerial models take different approaches to their projects, given the different nature of their work. The French Ministry of Higher Education and Research spoke about how it communicates a data-services approach in encouraging its departments to open up their data. This helps to overcome the main challenge of internal opposition to opening data that many programs face. Teams will build something with data once opened, if solicited. This has given birth to such projects as scanR, the French Ministry of Education’s search engine for research and innovation projects.
— OpenDataSoft (@opendatasoft) 6 décembre 2016
While the Portuguese Ministry of Health emphasized that it had strong institutional support and even pressure behind its initiative, it also reminded the participants that communicating the data in different ways is of the utmost importance to drive impact. The ministry has taken the strategy of building a whole suite of monitoring dashboards that make the data easy to communicate to the public. When data are easy to understand for the public, people are better equipped to interact with the data. They’re more likely to be regularly consulted, reused in research, or connected to an application.
— OpenDataSoft (@opendatasoft) 6 décembre 2016
Two ministers, two approaches to communication, but similar outcomes through an Open Data project with a focus on communication. What we can gather from these two projects is that Open Data is a key communication tool for an open government. We were excited to wrap up our session with an announcement: in the spirit of the OGP, we launched a new offer for any NGOs or Nonprofits wishing to open their data. From now on, these types of organizations can create a free OpenDataSoft portal in order to become more transparent and collaborative with their communities. If you’re a part of an NGO or a Nonprofit, why not start opening your data?
OGP 2016 Toolbox Hackathon
One of the goals of the OGP 2016 Summit was to produce a toolbox for governments and civil society. This would be a set of digital solutions that enable a more open government in the spirit of OGP’s four main goals, in addition to the engagements made during the summit. A hackathon was thus organized to make this a reality.
We were able to participate in all three days of the hackathon, and took part in two projects:
- Open Data Analysis on Live Consultation, alongside Cap Collectif
- Legislators World Map, with EveryPolitician Data
The Open Data Analysis on Live Consultation project was a joint effort by OpenDataSoft and Cap Collectif. Cap Collectif makes a platform for online consultation of laws proposed by legislative bodies, even at the local level. By making the data on consultations open, this project seeks to enable analyses of legislative consultations. It would in effect make the process even more transparent. Click here to view the Government and Citizens portal in its entirety (in French).
For our second project, we wanted to build off of our legislators map of the 115th US Congress and expand this to the international level. During the hackathon, we met up with the team from EveryPolitician Data, which has data on 72,129 politicians from 233 countries, and are together with them working on putting the data on a map.
— Hera Hussain حرا (@herahussain) 8 décembre 2016
The hackathon showed a lot of projects from both open and closed-source providers, with a significant presence of projects working on participatory law-making solutions. It was extremely refreshing to see civil society and developers working together in the true spirit of collaboration to open up democracy.
In essence, it is clear that many projects aim to play some role in improving communication channels, be it through making it easier to find out who one’s legislators are to facilitate exchanges, or to directly communicate one’s thoughts during the legislative process. Communication shows itself once again as a key element of open government.
Effectively Communicating to Foster Collaboration
In between working at the hackathon, we were quite busy! Chief Data Officer Nicolas Terpolilli led a workshop giving participants the opportunity to publish their first dataset, which had the objective of empowering data consumers who may not have ever published a dataset before to see how it’s done in order to gain a more first-hand knowledge of some of the major steps involved.
— Peter CampoBasso (@pcampo14) 8 décembre 2016
That same morning, Chief Technical Officer David Thoumas spoke on a panel with the French Minister for Digital Affairs Axelle Lemaire entitled “France’s Legislative Achievements in Open Government in Light of Foreign Projects.” The panel discussed APIs, the challenges and opportunities for local government Open Data initiatives, the inclusive process of the French Digital Republic Bill, and the evolution for the next 100 years and the tendencies in Open Data. Notably, Ms. Lemaire talked a great deal about the need for data for the general interest.
— Open Gov Partnership (@opengovpart) 8 décembre 2016
In addition, we were lucky enough to make it to several different sessions filled with storytelling of successful Open Data projects, learn more about open algorithms, and hear debates as to whether or not they are democratic (hint: people say no if there’s not effective communication around them!), debate the true levels of collaboration in civic tech, watch the French Ministry of Culture and Communication as well as the French Ministry of Education launch their new Open Data Portals with OpenDataSoft, and much more. The main theme that emerges is a desire for greater participation in our societies, a concern for inclusivity of both technical and non-technical backgrounds, and a passion for accessible governments that give citizens the power to work alongside leaders for transformative change.
In all of these initiatives and projects, Open Data clearly has a critical role; without open information from governments with tools that render it understandable and shareable via APIs, governments are almost given the green light to remain closed and block civic innovation. With the French co-presidency of the OGP this year focusing on a raised standard for Open Data, this next year could see some important evolutions come out of Open Government data, if governments end up putting an extra focus on it. Let’s leave it up to the citizens to follow up and ensure these changes see the day!
Get opening your own data!
Since we now know that Open Data is a critical step to getting your Open Government program off the ground, how should you go about launching your program? Get our guide here for some inspiration!