5 things I learned at the ODI Open Data Leaders Network

I recently took part in the  Open data Leaders Network (ODLN) in the ODI offices in London, representing the Dublinked Open data portal for Dublin, Ireland.  This was a very intensive but inspiring week of training, networking and ideas exchange with leaders of government open data initiatives from around the world, from other cities and regions like Aragon in Spain, Jakarta and Sao Paulo and national leaders from India, Burkina Faso, Ukraine, Serbia and Italy.

brainstorming ideas to promote open data

We had a packed itinerary of workshops and sessions to share the latest thinking in open data, help us troubleshoot technical issues and common problems and how best to maximise impact and share stories of success.  We also had meetings with leading open data champions like Gavin Starks CEO of ODI and Richard Stirling, formerly of opengov.uk, who shared their experience and lessons with us.  During the visit, I had some initial insights that I will be taking away:

  • Create a common language

One of the first obstacles we face as open data practitioners is a general lack of understanding about what open data is and why we should care about it.  We heard a number of different motivations to opening up public data but these essentially boil down to 3 agendas – stimulating innovation and economic development, driving public sector cost efficiencies and promoting transparency.  The ODLN training really helped me to articulate a vision around each of these drivers and to always use language that resonates with the different audiences and the agenda they care about most.

 

  • Help is out there

Go quick, go dirty’ was our mantra when we launched Dublinked in 2011, the idea being to first establish the principle of openness, then work on improving data quality.  Four years on, we still have a way to go to systemise data publication and build our technical resource.  So I was heartened to hear from Richard Stirling that “data quality is universally awful” but there are tools that even a non technical person like myself can use to improve data quality; for example csvlint to check spreadsheet structure, ODI certificates to add context and ODI Pathway to check publishing practice.

  • Show the impact

Working in an emerging area like open data; it can be difficult to move beyond the hype to demonstrate real impact in terms of benefits to the city and the citizen.  While open data is free for others to reuse, there is often a cost to extract and prepare it and it can be difficult to measure the added value in opening it up.  The ODI, through their global network is very good at telling data stories about the things that matter to ordinary people and I felt there was much to learn from their publications and website.  I was impressed with the hard metrics showing significant added value and cost savings achieved by their startup programme and will be following this closely.

  • Outsource innovation

We met with a number of entrepreneurs including those based in the ODIs startup programme on day two.  What impressed me most was the agility and specialist expertise they can bring to address unmet needs and public sector challenges.  As Dublin are just about to launch our first Open Challenge calling for new ideas to encourage cycling in the city, it was great to learn from the ODIs experience in running these kind of challenges and supporting the growth of new startups.  It was encouraging to see the mutual benefits– the public sector gaining the latest bespoke solutions while also driving innovation by providing start-ups with a clear route into public procurement.

  • Let others lead

Even though we had very diverse backgrounds, each of us faced similar challenges often working in small teams in a complex and resource constrained public sector.  It felt strange to call myself a leader as working in a relatively new field; it can sometimes feel like I am making it up as I go along!  This can be a lonely place, so having a supportive peer network to share stories with was incredibly positive and motivating.  One of the key takeaways for me is the importance of taking the time to build political capital and new relationships, to let others take the lead while ensuring the credit for success is shared around.  I’m already putting this learning into practice and hope it will help us bring about lasting change.

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