My colleagues over at the Open Knowledge Foundation have been thinking about recruiting an Open Data Advocate, someone who can coordinate a number of the activities they are up to in the open data space. I offered to think about what the role should entail and how that person could be effective. Consequently, in the interests of transparency, fleshing out my thinking and seeing if there might be feed back (feel free to comment openly, or email me personally if you wish to keep it private) I’m laying out my thinking below.
These are exciting times for open government data advocates. Over the past few years a number of countries, cities and international organizations have launched open data portals and implemented open data policies. Many, many more are contemplating joining the fray. What makes this exciting is that some established players (e.g. United States, UK, World Bank) are continue to push forward and will, I suspect, be refining and augmenting their services in the coming months. At the same time there are still a number of laggards (e.g. Canada federally, Southern Europe, Asia) in which mobilizing local communities, engaging with public servants and providing policy support is still the order of the day.
This makes the role of an Open Data Advocate complex. Obviously, helping pull the laggards along is an important task. Alternatively (or in addition) they may need to also be thinking longer term. Where is open data going, what will second and third generation open data portals need to look like (and what policy infrastructure will be needed to support them).
These are two different goals and so either choosing, or balancing, between them will not be easy.
Some of the key challenges spring quite obviously from that context. But there are also other challenges, I believe to be looming as well. So what do I suspect are the key challenges around open data over the next 1-5 years?
- Getting the laggards up and running
- Getting governments to use standardized licenses that are truly open (be it the PDDL, CC-0 or one of the other available licenses out there
- Cultivating/fostering an eco-system of external data users
- Cultivating/fostering an eco-system of internal government user (and vendors) for open data (this is what will really make open data sustainable)
- Pushing jurisdictions and vendors towards adopting standard structures for similar types of data (e.g. wouldn’t it be nice if restaurant inspection data from different jurisdictions were structured similarly?)
- Raising awareness about abuses of, and the politicization of, data. (e.g. this story about crime data out of New York which has not received nearly enough press)
The Tasks/Leverage Points
There are some basic things that the role will require including:
- Overseeing the Working Group on Open Government Data
- Managing opengovernmentdata.org
- Helping organize the Open Government Data Camp 2011, 2012 and beyond
But what the role will really have to do is figure out the key leverage points that can begin to shift the key challenges listed above in the right direction. The above mentioned tasks may be helpful in doing that… but they may not be. Success is going to be determined but figuring how to shift systems (government, vendor, non-profit, etc…) to advance the cause of open data. This will be no small task.
My sense is that some of these leverage points might include:
- Organizing open data hackathons – ideally ones that begin to involve key vendors (both to encourage API development, but also to get them using open data)
- Leveraging assets like Civic Commons to get open data policies up on online so that jurisdictions entertaining the issue can copy them
- Building open data communities in key countries around the world – particularly in key countries in such as Brasil and India where a combination of solid democratic institutions and a sizable developer community could help trigger changes that will have ramifications beyond their borders (I suspect there are also some key smaller countries – need to think more on that)
- I’m sure this list could be enhanced…
Obviously resolving the above defined challenges in 1-5 years is probably not realistic. Indeed, resolving many of those issues is probably impossible – it will be a case of ensuring each time we peel back one layer of the onion we are well positioned to tackle the next layer.
Given this, some key metrics by which the Open Knowledge Foundation should evaluate the person in this role might be:
At a high level, possible some metrics might include:
- Number of open data portals world wide? (number using CKAN?)
- Number of groups, individuals, cities participating in Opendata hackathons
- Number of applications/uses of open data
- Awareness of CKAN and its mission in the public, developer space, government officials, media?
- Number of government vendors offering open data as part of their solution
More additional deliverables, could include:
- Running two Global OpenData Hackathons a year?
- Developing an OKFN consulting arm specializing in open data services/implementation
- Create an open data implementation policy “in a box” support materials for implementing an open data strategy in government
- Develop a global network of OKFN chapters to push their local and national governments, share best practices
- Run opendata bootcamps for public servants and/or activists
- Create a local open data hackathon in a box kit (to enable local events)
- Create a local “how to be an open data activist” site
- Conduct some research on the benefits of open data to advance the policy debate
- Create a stronger feedback loop on CKAN’s benefits and weaknesses
- Create a vehicle to connect VC’s and/or money with open data drive companies and app developers (or at least assess what barriers remain to use open data in business processes).
Okay, I’ll stop there, but if you have thoughts please send them or comment below. Hope this stimulates some thinking among fellow open data geeks.