While the G7 (previously G8) countries must make firmer commitments to eliminate data access fees in their Open Data Charter Action Plans, their plans have also shed light on some good practices in open data movements for others to follow suit.
Except for Germany, which still has yet to release its plan, other G7 countries have all launched their action plans detailing the implementation of the G8 Open Data Charter, an agreement pledged by the G8 governments to comply with five open data principles to “increase transparency” and “spur innovation.” Following our analysis on these action plans, today we lay out two key lessons which we believe other countries should learn from the G7 open data experiences — provision of metadata and community engagement.
Facilitate data discovery by comprehensive metadata
In our own Open Data Policy Guidelines, we emphasize that proactive disclosure of data is about putting information where people are already looking for it. It is not just about uploading a file, but also about whether it is fully described or contextualized to ease the discovery of data. In order to ensure data is complete and findable, a mandate for robust and consistent metadata is key.
The U.S. has clearly defined what should be included as granular metadata in the Open Data Policy Memorandum. The memo requires agencies to provide “information about origin, linked data, geographic location, time series continuations, data quality, and other relevant indices that reveal relationships between datasets and … fitness of the data source.” The U.K., U.S. and Canada have all promised to develop and release tools and guidance like “common vocabulary and data dictionaries” to ensure the consistency of metadata among different departments and agencies. The U.S. has also asked for the provision of “thorough documentation of data elements,” “descriptions of the purpose of the collection,” “the population of interest,” “the characteristics of the sample” and “the method of data collection,” if any of these are applicable.
In addition, all G7 countries have committed to participate in a metadata mapping exercise on Github, to maintain consistency of metadata among different countries and improve government interoperability. We believe the exercise can encourage more innovative use of data for cross-country comparison and in international institutions.
Engaging community and establishing partnership
The G7 countries have also made significant steps to include the public in their open data initiatives. As shown by the cases of Kenya and Slovakia, an active and vibrant civil society and data-user community are essential to making open data and open government relevant and meaningful to our daily life. That is the reason why Sunlight stresses, in our Open Data Guidelines, the importance of incorporating public perspectives in both formulating and implementing open data policies. Here are three key elements about community engagement strategies we found from the G7 action plans:
1. Engaging public perspectives in prioritization of data release. In order to determine what data should be released first, most G7 countries have used various methods to incorporate public viewpoints. Approaches include organizing public debates on specific themes like healthcare and education (France), conducting studies and roundtable discussions on 500 major companies and organizations fueled by open data, crowdsourcing feedback via email or online platforms (the U.S.), release of a comprehensive data inventory for all published and unpublished data that government holds (Canada and the U.K.) and inviting data users “to highlight the potential uses and impacts of these datasets if made openly available.” We especially applaud the U.K. and Canadian commitment to release their data inventory. As we explained before, it is an essential step to allow citizens to demand for the data they need.
2. Improve public data literacy and cultivate individuals or groups to re-use data in innovative ways. Many G7 countries have organised numerous competitions and hackathons to encourage the re-use of data, such as Apps4Italy, Geovation (the U.K.) and the Canadian national appathon. We believe these activities are good first steps to foster the growth of the data developers community. The next step should be focusing on maintaining interactions between these developers, and assisting them to turn these one-off events into long-term projects. For instance, the EU action plan launched the “Apps4EU project,” aiming to turn ideas from “Apps4” competitions into sustainable business models.
3. Document and share the open data experiences with other countries. Finally, the G7 countries have all fulfilled their promises to share their open data experiences. For instance, the U.K.’s “data.gov.uk To Go” project on Github contains software of its open data website and allows other governments to build and customize their own website. The French Open Data Handbook and U.S. “Project Open Data” include case studies of challenges and successes they face in the process of opening data, which are not just about technical difficulties but also about constraints on legal, policy, security and privacy issues.
Although the G7 countries still need to work harder to improve their national action plans and compliance on open data, the efforts and progress made so far may be able to provide a useful lesson for the international community to learn from — or to avoid.