Sustaining Senior Sponsorship

If sponsorship is taken away – there must have been sponsorship before. So why does it go away? Understanding that might help.


Why we lose sponsorship

  • Short attention spans
  • Whitewashing, which they move on
  • People over-promising, and the results not matching that.

The enthusiasm needs to be sustainable.

It’s easier to sustain sponsorship if your boss believes in the principle. If doing things in the open becomes absorbed into the culture, it will endure. If it’s done an an economic rationale, if that incentive fails, the project’s support will go.

External validation

How important is sponsorship? If you have a distributed network of people in the organisation using bit, it becomes self sustaining. But how do you get there? The Government Digital Service has an open standards board which meets every six months, which include both internal senior people and external experts and is chaired by the Government’s CTO. The external members give great feedback. Internal validation is good, but external validation is very powerful social proof.

External relationships also help reduce the risk of “preaching to the converted” in the small family that is the open data community. Should we push more for a wider senior network of people who can come in and support (or opine) on the open data progress of organisations. If so, they need to be more than just around openness and data, there needs to be business benefits experts who can connect the dots.

A culture of data

Organisations which are data-centric are in a better position. If you use data as part of managing your organisation, it’s a very simple step to opening up that data, as there’s little cost involved. Camden has been an example of this.

Without a profound culture of data use, it’s not just senior sponsorship withdrawal that puts the project at risk: departure of a key evangelist would do the same. A data exec or chief scientist puts you in a good position to start with.

One council has experienced the key senior stakeholders have left. But they left the people actually doing the data work behind, and so they carry on doing it – and they try to persuade the new senior stakeholders to become supportive. In that sense, it’s far more of a problem if the people who do the work leave.

Networks and nodes

A network can survive the loss of a node, but if you don’t have a network, the loss of one person can be critical. Even in a network, it’s important to support you nodes – and watch our for a node who is becoming isolated from the network.

There is some suggestion that some organisations are beginning to feel a political pressure to close things down rather than open them up. In that atmosphere, a supportive senior stakeholder is vital. Losing them can ruin a project.

Incentivising culture change

It all comes back to a fundamental culture change rather than just a business case. Part of that is the historical situation where data is locked up in closed systems, and getting it our takes money and effort. That still needs a business case – but you need to move beyond that. You’re aiming for a position where that data is pervasive and changing the whole organisation through dashboards. There’s a limit to arguments.

We need open data carrots for senior staff, beyond the simple cost savings argument.

There are legacy cultures and commercial operations that have a vested interest in keeping data locked up. It only takes one MP standing up and asking questions to give you senior incentives.

You hear people talking again and again about the problem of silos, but precious little is done about it, because the value of breaking the silos is limited to an individual, even if the gain for the organisation is great.

With open data, the more open data there is, the more value emerges. But the benefits of that might not accrue to the person making the decisions.

Open data is such a good way to break silos. If we all published our data

Key takeaways:

  • Senior networks
  • Validation through external blogs/articles
  • Get it in job descriptions
  • More senior people at Open Data Camp

Session notes