Open Data Strategy Campfire

A session from Open Data Camp 7 on delivering started nationally, led by Anne McCrossan. Liveblogged notes. Prone to error, inaccuracy and howling crimes against grammar and syntax. Post will be updated in the coming days.

Do we really have a national data started yet? Where we do have strategies – how well are they being implemented? Can we move things forwards by sharing experiences with each other?

Northern Ireland is on its second data strategy in six years. The first one was all data open by default – but they didn’t really have the delivery mechanisms or incentives to get civil servants to deliver. Hence the reason for a new one so quickly. It has a lot more reporting mechanisms in there, to exert pressure on local authorities, and report that upwards to general government.

Over the first three years, the success stories tended to be with startups and external companies. The frustrations were with the civil service.

Community Desires

What are our desired as a community, and how would they be expressed? Open data strategy in particular has tended to be less a strategy and more a commitment to getting it out. This is partially the result of the movement being kicked off by a coalition of interests. It can be challenging for some political ends.

Do we need outcomes? This is still an emergent space, so it’s hard to know what outcomes you might get. For example, going to the moon gave us Velcro, but it wasn’t part of the strategy… It’s very difficult to know what people will do with open data. So, maybe the strategy should just be delivery.

However, if you’re lacking political support, they are useful. Admittedly, we (the public) have paid for it, so is that a reason in itself?

There are top-down hooks we can tap into. The endgame is more important now. Issues like citizen data science and self-serve analytics are usable hooks. Use the words they are aiming for…

Agile approaches and prototyping could surface some use cases by getting people to think about the art of the possible. The Food Hygiene Ratings data set was opened from the start, and there are examples of it being used well now. But we’ve done this approach. We now need a more direct strategy – something that will stand up against spending review scrutiny.

There are some broader infrastructural efficiency cases to be made for open data. But it can get very involved. We need to be clearer about the benefits. But we’re all busy doing our own things – that doesn’t leave much time for coming together to determine a national strategy. But it’s time now.

Emergent uses versus desire for measureable outcomes

There’s a tension between letting things be emergent, and the desire to proscribe an outcome to justify data release. Designing a system for speculative reuse is tough to do – and tough to justify. The nature of this work is often different from the desire to deliver focused outcomes.

Open Data Strategy and Data Strategy are seen as separate things. As a community, we need to make a concerted effort to bring them together. But any national strategy without serious top cover is destined to fail. Any stories we come up with have to overcome the barrier of lack of political will.

There is a fear around data post-Cambridge Analytica. Any strategy that encounters the public need to think about data use and ownership. Is it permissible to be working on data strategy without considering other things? How does our data work related to what other people are doing?

If you don’t have at least some regard to outcomes, it’s very hard to engaged people. Transparency can be a powerful argument, and can be trust-building. People are much more inclined to be interested in data when it directly affects them. They don’t tend to care about data use if asked in advance, but get uncomfortable if they only find out afterwards.

But let’s not get confused between personal data, and other forms of data.

Different strategies for different organisations

Do we need data strategies at all? Or do we need data elements in other strategies?

The maturity of the organisation will suggest different strategies. Organisation which have good data infrastructure have less need of strategy. But if you’re not there yet, you need to build that infrastructure, and that needs a strategy. We need to think about how we model the costs and value of that infrastructure. Too often, the data element comes last.

Data strategy needs to be owned at board level, exist as a living document and be embedded in the culture. It can’t be seen just as a tech issue. The “throw a consultant at it” approach is not working and not sustainable.

Protecting the river of open data

Stop just connecting up legacy systems. Periodically you need to scrap it all and stat again with something fit for purpose. Thinking of data as a one-off “thing” is the big mistake – it’s a continuous process. Don’t assume that big companies are good at this. They usually aren’t.

Do we need to tell the benefits story across a broader canvas? Any organisation is dependent on other organisations, and data can be the sinews that connect them. It’s more easily seen in government, where there’s less of a competitive element. Open Data has a really good story about being the lifeblood of broader systems.

We need to move from the “data is oil” metaphor, to it as a sustainable, life giving resources. Maybe we think about data as a river – pollution is bad, but it can exist as a public good, connected to ponds, lakes and so on. Do we need a single person responsible for the data river, in the same way we do for the physical rivers and waterways.

Session Notes

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