A Citizens’ Call to Action on Open Data
NOTE: We invite the public to comment on this declaration in this commentable version of the text below, please add your thoughts by November 8, 10.00am GMT.
See also the Declaration announcement blog post.
Governments exist “by and for the people”. The data they collect (or fund others to collect) in the course of carrying out their statutory duties also belongs to the people, and in the 21st century it is fast becoming one of the most valuable public goods we have – yet it often remains inaccessible or unaffordable to the vast majority. The Global Open Data Initiative aims to make Government data openly available to all – available for anyone, anywhere to download, use, re-use and redistribute without charge for any purpose.
We welcome government and multi-stakeholder efforts to advance open government data, and we seek to contribute to their success. However, to ensure that such efforts deliver real and sustained benefits for citizens, it is essential that civil society comes to the table with its own strong vision, ideals and demands. The Global Open Data Initiative seeks to engage and unite as broad a civil society constituency in a shared vision of the role of open data in accountable, inclusive and participatory governance.
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 share that information with other citizens. Citizens’ core right to open government data arises from its increasingly critical role in enabling us to hold our governments accountable for fulfilling their obligations, and to play an informed and active role in decisions that affect us.
In addition, opening up government data creates new opportunities for SMEs and entrepreneurs, drives improved efficiency within government, and advances scientific progress. The initial costs (including any lost revenue from licenses and access charges) will be repaid many times over by the growth of knowledge and innovative data-driven businesses and services that create jobs, deliver social value and boost GDP.
We call on governments everywhere to take measurable, time-bound steps to:
1) Make data open by default: Government data should be open by default, and this principle should ultimately be entrenched in law. Open means that data should be freely available for use, reuse and redistribution by anyone for any purpose and should be provided in a machine-readable form (specifically it should be open data as defined by the Open Definition and in line with the 10 Open Data Principles).
- Government information management (including procurement requirements and research funding, IT management, and the design of new laws, policies and procedures) should be reformed as necessary to ensure that such systems have built-in features enusuring that open data can be released without additional effort.
- Non-compliance, or poor data quality, should not be used as an excuse for non-publication of existing data.
- Governments should adopt intellectual property and copyright policies that encourage unrestricted public reuse and analysis of government data.
2) Make the process people-centered (or “put the users first”): Experience shows that open data flounders without a strong user community, and the best way to build such a community is by involving users from the very start in designing and developing open data systems.
- Within government: The different branches of government themselves (including the legislature and judiciary, as well as different agencies and line ministries within the executive) stand to gain important benefits from sharing and combining their data. Successful open data initiatives create buy-in and cultural change within government by establishing cross-departmental working groups or other structures that allow officials the space they need to create reliable, permanent, ambitious open data policies.
- Beyond government: Civil society groups and businesses should be considered equal stakeholders alongside internal government actors. Agencies leading on open data should involve and consult these stakeholders – including technologists, journalists, NGOs, legislators, other governments, academics and researchers, private industry, and independent members of the public – at every stage in the process.
- Stakeholders both inside and outside government should be fully involved in identifying priority datasets and designing related initiatives that can help to address key social or economic problems, foster entrepreneurship and create jobs. Government should support and facilitate the critical role of both private sector and public service intermediaries in making data useful.
3) Provide no-cost access: One of the greatest barriers to access to ostensibly publicly-available information is the cost imposed on the public for access–even when the cost is minimal. Most government information is collected for governmental purposes, and the existence of user fees has little to no effect on whether the government gathers the data in the first place.
- Governments should remove fees for access, which skew the pool of who is willing (or able) to access information and preclude transformative uses of the data that in turn generates business growth and tax revenues.
- Governments should also minimise the indirect cost of using and re-using data by adopting commonly owned, non-proprietary (or “open”) formats that allow potential users to access the data without the need to pay for a proprietary software license.
- Such open formats and standards should be commonly adopted across departments and agencies to harmonise the way information is published, reducing the transaction costs of accessing, using and combining data.
4) Put accountability at the core: Open Data needs to mean more than selective release of the datasets that are easiest or most comfortable for governments to open. It should empower citizens to hold government accountable for the performance of its core functions and obligations.
- At a minimum, governments should release datasets that are fundamental to citizen-state accountability and underlie key policy debates and decisions, including: (TBD list of data priorities goes here)
- Governments should create comprehensive indices of existing government data sets, whether published or not, as a foundation for new transparency policies, to empower public scrutiny of information management, and to enable policymakers to identify gaps in existing data creation and collection.
5) Invest in capacity: Governments should start with initiatives and requirements that are appropriate to their own current capacity to create and release credible data, and that complement the current capacity of key stakeholders to analyze and reuse it. At the same time, in order to unlock the full social, political and economic benefits of open data, all stakeholders should invest in rapidly broadening and deepening capacity.
- Governments and their development partners need to invest in making data simple to navigate and understand, available in all national languages, and accessible through appropriate channels such as mobile phone platforms where appropriate.
- Governments and their development partners should support training for officials, SMEs and CSOs to tackle lack of data and web skills, and should make complementary investments in improving the quality and timeliness of government statistics.
6) Improve the quality of official data: Poor quality, coverage and timeliness of government information – including administrative and sectoral data, geospatial data, and survey data – is a major barrier to unlocking the full value of open data.
- Governments should develop plans to implement the Paris21 2011 Busan Action Plan, which calls for increased resources for statistical and information systems, tackling important gaps and weaknesses (including the lack of gender disaggregation in key datasets), and fully integrating statistics into decision-making.
- Governments should bring their statistical efforts into line with international data standards and schemas, to facilitate reuse and analysis across various jurisdictions.
- Private firms and NGOs that collect data which could be used alongside government statistics to solve public problems in areas such as disease control, disaster relief, urban planning, etc. should enter into partnerships to make this data available to government agencies and the public without charge, in fully anonymized form and subject to robust privacy protections.
7) Enact legal and political reforms to create more open, transparent and participatory governance: Open government data cannot do its job in an environment of secrecy, fear and repression. Creating and defending open and participatory forms of governance is an ongoing challenge that requires constant work, scrutiny and engagement and there is no country that can claim to have perfected it.
- Governments should uphold basic rights to freedom of expression, information and association, and implement robust safeguards for personal privacy, as outlined in the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
- In addition, in line with their commitments in the UN Millennium Declaration (2000) and the Declaration of the Open Government Partnership (2011), they should take concrete steps to tackle gaps in participation, inclusion, integrity and transparency in governance, creating momentum and legitimacy for reform through public dialogue and consensus.
We invite the public to comment on this declaration in this commentable version of the text above, please add your thoughts by November 8, 10.00am GMT.
Further comment and discussion is invited on the Global Open Data Initiative discussion list, join us here.