What works: Open with a purpose

Image: Olafur Eliasson, Climate justice navigator, 2018, photo by Jens Ziehe

by Ania Calderón

Since its inception at the International Open Data Conference 2015 in Canada, more than 100 governments and organisations have committed to opening up data based on a set of global principles laid out by the Open Data Charter. Today, with a radical shift in the political climate and increasing public awareness of well-founded privacy concerns, we must work to cement a culture of openness and to mitigate the risks we see.

When a full time team was put in place in 2017, we set out to test where we could add most value, including high-level advocacy, supporting implementation, and encouraging better publication and use of data. Collaborating with our partners, we looked to openly refine our strategy by learning and adapting from what works. Alongside reflections on the impact of the field a decade since its emergence, including the state of open data and other retrospectives, the results show a rapid growth across geographies and sectors, as well as a greater need to address potential harms and increase awareness of tangible benefits.

In our efforts to encourage a shift towards governments becoming open by default, we have found that publishing data to solve targeted policy goals is more effective than doing so in isolation.

“Publishing with purpose” creates more incentives and momentum than “publish and they will come”. Opening up quality data to address globally relevant problems , while safeguarding privacy and promoting ethical use, allows us to add value in the following ways:

Building the field and influencing data policies — Shifting focus to purpose driven publication has resonated with many expert organisations, as reported by the Financial Times. From New Zealand to Uruguay and Ontario to Shanghai, these principles are increasingly used in data policies around the world.

Busting silos and enabling purpose-driven collaboration — Providing a platform for collaboration between those working on open data, sector-focused organisations and advocates that are affected by the data being published. For example, connecting the climate movement with data policies in Chile as the government prepares to host the most important global climate change conference this year.

Demonstrating why openness matters — Working with partners to understand how openness can increase trust and suggest pathways to just outcomes. For example, achieving fair income generation with gender pay gap reporting, disrupting vested interests by linking anticorruption data, and encouraging climate action through open carbon footprint practices.

These findings, captured in our annual report, have informed a refined mission and vision in our “Bringing power to the open” strategy, and focused our efforts around two key areas: articulating norms and demonstrating impact.

We aim to show how open data can address targeted policy goals and help build field partnerships to ground norms in culture and practice. We do this by advocating for government reformers to implement open data principles most likely to yield specific and tangible benefits, in ways that consider both people and problems. This then feeds back into an increased belief in and expectation of transparency and accountability.

We collaborate with our network of adopting governments and local actors to demonstrate what open data can achieve in response to specific, localised needs.

By partnering with domain experts we are able to develop practical guidance for how open data can help solve specific problems, and capture lessons to help strengthen data rights and governance in a fracturing digital age.

We have come a long way since our first three years thanks to our vibrant partners, generous support from our funders, and a growing network of over 70 adopting governments from around the world. We will build on these lessons to shape our new strategy and are eager to work together with a diverse group of data communities and human rights activists to instill a culture of fairness, openness and accountability in how data is collected, shared and used within governments and society more broadly, before a crucial window of opportunity closes.

To learn more about our learnings and progress so far read our final report presented to Luminate, or contact us at info@opendatacharter.org.




Collaborating with governments and organisations to open up data for pay parity, climate action and combatting corruption.

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Open Data Charter

Open Data Charter

Collaborating with governments and organisations to open up data for pay parity, climate action and combatting corruption.

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