New G8 Open Data Charter

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The G8 countries today released a new declaration, and with it an Open Data Charter policy paper, which together constitute a significant high-level commitment to open data and transparency.

Sunlight has been close to the ideas, movement, and conversations that have helped lead to this announcement.  We’re thrilled to see such a visible, detailed statement from the G8, moving what has long been a national level issue, and more recently a multi-stakeholder issue, to now an idea jointly promoted and celebrated by some of the world’s most powerful governments on their own terms.

This statement provides helpful language in its commitments, reiterating the open data benefits canon, and imposing a new reporting processes and avenues for collaboration, both intergovernmental and across sectors. It will likely help prioritize open data initiatives in other policy venues, and empower internal reform champions within G8 governments (and beyond) to pursue open data.

These results are predictable, in part, because they’re the kinds of impact we’ve seen from the succession of highly visible US open data policies over the last 5 or so years, culminating recently in the newest Open Data Policy from the administration.

The experience of those successive policies also suggest some likely challenges that the G8’s Open Data Charter will soon face, for example: the limits of a head of state’s voluntary commitment in affecting civil servants, the difficulty in articulating “high value” data (in even a single country context), the challenge in operationalizing the “default” of openness, the gap between governments’ open data commitments and their transparency performance on other issues (especially those that affect political power), or the inherent difficulty in evaluating openness, when only the disclosed is accessible.

Each of those issues, and many others, will now play out across the G8 countries, and we’ll all be better off for it. Open data is a concept that should touch any number of other issue domains within government, and a high-level commitment to openness is among the best ways of taking the spirit of openness that underpins our ideas about democracy, and applying it to all the places where we haven’t yet managed to apply it.

It’s a testament to the optimism and potential we see in new technology that our some of our broadest hopes for shared knowledge are now being expressed in terms of Open Data, at the highest levels of governments around the world. Let’s work to ensure that our expectations, vision, and judgment are proportional to the challenge.

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