Who is “Public” Data Really For?


Jer Thorp at Literary Hub: “Public” is a word that has, in the last decade, become bound tightly to data. Loosely defined, any data that is available in the public domain falls into this category, but the term is most often used to describe data that might serve some kind of civic purpose: census data or environmental data or health data, along with transparency-focused data like government budgets and reports. Often sidled up to “public” is the word “open.” Although the Venn diagram between the two words has ample overlap (public data is often open, and vice versa), the word “open” typically refers to if and how the data is accessible, rather than toward what ends it might be put to use.

Both words—“public” and “open”—invite a question: For whom? Despite the efforts of Mae and Gareth, and Tom Grundner and many others, the internet as it exists is hardly a public space. Many people still find themselves excluded from full participation. Access to anything posted on a city web page or on a .gov domain is restricted by barriers of cost and technical ability. Getting this data can be particularly hard for communities that are already marginalized, and both barriers—financial and technical—can be nearly impassable in places with limited resources and literacies.

Data.gov, the United States’ “open data portal,” lists nearly 250,000 data sets, an apparent bounty of free information. Spend some time on data.gov and other portals, though, and you’ll find out that public data as it exists is messy and often confusing. Many hosted “data sets” are links to URLs that are no longer active. Trying to access data about Native American communities from the American Community Survey on data.gov brought me first to a census site with an unlabeled list of file folders. Downloading a zip file and unpacking it resulted in 64,086 cryptically named text files each containing zero kilobytes of data. As someone who has spent much of the last decade working with these kinds of data, I can tell you that this is not an uncommon experience. All too often, working with public data feels like assembling particularly complicated Ikea furniture with no tools, no instructions, and an unknown number of missing pieces.

Today’s public data serves a particular type of person and a specific type of purpose. Mostly, it supports technically adept entrepreneurs. Civic data initiatives haven’t been shy about this; on data.gov’s impact page you’ll find a kind of hall-of-fame list of companies that are “public data success stories”: Kayak, Trulia, Foursquare, LinkedIn, Realtor.com, Zillow, Zocdoc, AccuWeather, Carfax. All of these corporations have, in some fashion, built profit models around public data, often charging for access to the very information that the state touts as “accessible, discoverable, and usable.”…(More)”.

Developing a Data Reuse Strategy for Solving Public Problems


The Data Stewards Academy…A self-directed learning program from the Open Data Policy Lab (The GovLab): “Communities across the world face unprecedented challenges. Strained by climate change, crumbling infrastructure, growing economic inequality, and the continued costs of the COVID-19 pandemic, institutions need new ways of solving public problems and improving how they operate.

In recent years, data has been increasingly used to inform policies and interventions targeted at these issues. Yet, many of these data projects, data collaboratives, and open data initiatives remain scattered. As we enter into a new age of data use and re-use, a third wave of open data, it is more important than ever to be strategic and purposeful, to find new ways to connect the demand for data with its supply to meet institutional objectives in a socially responsible way.

This self-directed learning program, adapted from a selective executive education course, will help data stewards (and aspiring data stewards) develop a data re-use strategy to solve public problems. Noting the ways data resources can inform their day-to-day and strategic decision-making, the course provides learners with ways they can use data to improve how they operate and pursue goals in the public’s interests. By working differently—using agile methods and data analytics—public, private, and civil sector leaders can promote data re-use and reduce data access inequities in ways that advance their institution’s goals.

In this self-directed learning program, we will teach participants how to develop a 21st century data strategy. Participants will learn:

  1. Why It Matters: A discussion of the three waves of open data and how data re-use has proven to be transformative;
  2. The Current State of Play: Current practice around data re-use, including deficits of current approaches and the need to shift from ad hoc engagements to more systematic, sustainable, and responsible models;
  3. Defining Demand: Methodologies for how organizations can formulate questions that data can answer; and make data collaboratives more purposeful;
  4. Mapping Supply: Methods for organizations to discover and assess the open and private data needed to answer the questions at hand that potentially may be available to them;
  5. Matching Supply with Demand: Operational models for connecting and meeting the needs of supply- and demand-side actors in a sustainable way;
  6. Identifying Risks: Overview of the risks that can emerge in the course of data re-use;
  7. Mitigating Risks and Other Considerations: Technical, legal and contractual issues that can be leveraged or may arise in the course of data collaboration and other data work; and
  8. Institutionalizing Data Re-use: Suggestions for how organizations can incorporate data re-use into their organizational structure and foster future collaboration and data stewardship.

The Data Stewardship Executive Education Course was designed and implemented by program leads Stefaan Verhulst, co-founder and chief research development officer at the GovLab, and Andrew Young, The GovLab’s knowledge director, in close collaboration with a global network of expert faculty and advisors. It aims to….(More)”.

Data Stewards Academy Canvas

Trust and Records in an Open Digital Environment


Book edited by Hrvoje Stančić: “…explores issues that arise when digital records are entrusted to the cloud and will help professionals to make informed choices in the context of a rapidly changing digital economy.

Showing that records need to ensure public trust, especially in the era of alternative truths, this volume argues that reliable resources, which are openly accessible from governmental institutions, e-services, archival institutions, digital repositories, and cloud-based digital archives, are the key to an open digital environment. The book also demonstrates that current established practices need to be reviewed and amended to include the networked nature of the cloud-based records, to investigate the role of new players, like cloud service providers (CSP), and assess the potential for implementing new, disruptive technologies like blockchain. Stančić and the contributors address these challenges by taking three themes – state, citizens, and documentary form – and discussing their interaction in the context of open government, open access, recordkeeping, and digital preservation.

Exploring what is needed to enable the establishment of an open digital environment, Trust and Records in an Open Digital Environment should be essential reading for data, information, document, and records management professionals. It will also be a key text for archivists, librarians, professors, and students working in the information sciences and other related fields….(More)”.

Building on a year of open data: progress and promise


Jennifer Yokoyama at Microsoft: “…The biggest takeaway from our work this past year – and the one thing I hope any reader of this post will take away – is that data collaboration is a spectrum. From the presence (or absence) of data to how open that data is to the trust level of the collaboration participants, these factors may necessarily lead to different configurations and different goals, but they can all lead to more open data and innovative insights and discoveries.

Here are a few other lessons we have learned over the last year:

  1. Principles set the foundation for stakeholder collaboration: When we launched the Open Data Campaign, we adopted five principles that guide our contributions and commitments to trusted data collaborations: Open, Usable, Empowering, Secure and Private. These principles underpin our participation, but importantly, organizations can build on them to establish responsible ways to share and collaborate around their data. The London Data Commission, for example, established a set of data sharing principles for public- and private-sector organizations to ensure alignment and to guide the participating groups in how they share data.
  2. There is value in pilot projects: Traditionally, data collaborations with several stakeholders require time – often including a long runway for building the collaboration, plus the time needed to execute on the project and learn from it. However, our learnings show short-term projects that experiment and test data collaborations can provide valuable insights. The London Data Commission did exactly that with the launch of four short-term pilot projects. Due to the success of the pilots, the partners are exploring how they can be expanded upon.
  3. Open data doesn’t require new data: Identifying data to share does not always mean it must be newly shared data; sometimes the data was narrowly shared, but can be shared more broadly, made more accessible or analyzed for a different purpose. Microsoft’s environmental indicator data is an example of data that was already disclosed in certain venues, but was then made available to the Linux Foundation’s OS-Climate Initiative to be consumed through analytics, thereby extending its reach and impact…

To get started, we suggest that emerging data collaborations make use of the wealth of existing resources. When embarking on data collaborations, we leveraged many of the definitions, toolkits and guides from leading organizations in this space. As examples, resources such as the Open Data Institute’s Data Ethics Canvas are extremely useful as a framework to develop ethical guidance. Additionally, The GovLab’s Open Data Policy Lab and Executive Course on Data Stewardship, both supported by Microsoft, highlight important case studies, governance considerations and frameworks when sharing data. If you want to learn more about the exciting work our partners are doing, check out the latest posts from the Open Data Institute and GovLab…(More)”. See also Open Data Policy Lab.

The Case for Open Land-Data Systems


Tim Hanstad at Project Syndicate: “Last month, a former Zimbabwean cabinet minister was arrested for illegally selling parcels of state land. A few days earlier, a Malaysian court convicted the ex-chairman of a state-owned land development agency of corruption. And in January, the Estonian government collapsed amid allegations of corrupt property dealings. These recent events all turned the spotlight on the growing but neglected threat of land-related corruption.

Such corruption can flourish in countries that are unprepared to manage the heightened demand for land that accompanies economic and population growth. Land governance in these countries – institutions, policies, rules, and records for managing land rights and use – is underdeveloped, which undermines the security of citizens’ land rights and enables covert land grabs by the well connected.

In Ghana, for example, the government keeps land records for only about 2% of currently operating farms; the ownership of the remainder is largely undocumented. In India, these records were, until recently, often kept in disorganized stacks in government offices.

Under such circumstances, corruption becomes relatively easy and lucrative. After all, when recordkeeping is nonexistent or chaotic, who can confidently identify the rightful owner of a parcel of land? As the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and Transparency International put it in a report a decade ago, “where land governance is deficient, high levels of corruption often flourish.” This corruption “is pervasive and without effective means of control.”

Globally, one in five people report having paid a bribe to access land services. In Africa, two out of three people believe the rich are likely to pay bribes or use their connections to grab land. Uncertainty about land rights can also affect housing security – around a billion people worldwide say they expect to be forced from their homes over the next five years.

Inevitably, the marginalized and vulnerable are the worst affected, whether they are widows driven from their homes by speculators or entire communities subjected to forced eviction by developers. Weak land rights and corruption also fuel conflict within communities, such as in Kenya, where political parties promise already-occupied land to supporters in an attempt to win votes.

But there is reason for hope. The ongoing revolution in information and communications technology provides unprecedented opportunities to digitize and open land records. Doing so would clarify the land rights of hundreds of millions of people globally and limit the scope for corrupt practices….(More)”.

Budget transparency and governance quality: a cross-country analysis


Paper by Marco Bisogno and Beatriz Cuadrado-Ballesteros: “The aim of this study is to assess whether there is a relationship between budget transparency and governance quality. The so-called openness movement and the global financial crises, which have put significant pressure on governments to cut expenditures and ensure balanced budgets, have motivated this research. The public choice and principal-agent theories have been used to investigate this relationship, implementing econometric models based on a sample of 96 countries over the period 2008–2019. The results show that higher levels of budget transparency positively affect the quality of governance, and vice versa, documenting simultaneous causality between both issues….(More)”

Vancouver launches health data dashboard to drive collective action


Sarah Wray at Cities Today: “Vancouver has published a new open data dashboard to track progress against 23 health and wellbeing indicators.

These include datasets on the number of children living below the poverty line, the number of households spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing, and the proportion of adults who have a sense of community belonging. As well as the most recent data for each indicator, the dashboard includes target figures and the current status of the city’s progress towards that goal…

The launch represents the first phase of the project and there are plans to expand the dashboard to include additional indicators, as well as neighbourhood-level and disaggregated data for different populations. The city is also working with Indigenous communities to identify more decolonised ways of collecting and analysing the data.

report published last year by British Columbia’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner called for provincial governments to collect and use disaggregated demographic and race-based data to address systemic racism and inequities. It emphasised that the process must include the community.

“One important piece that we’re still working on is data governance,” Zak said. “As we publish more disaggregated data that shows which communities in Vancouver are most impacted by health inequities, we need to do it in a way that is not just the local government telling stories about a community, but instead is telling a story with the community that leads to policy change.”…

Technical and financial support for the dashboard was provided by the Partnership for Healthy Cities, a global network of cities for preventing noncommunicable diseases and injuries. The partnership is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies in partnership with the World Health Organization and the public health organisation Vital Strategies….(More)”.

Data Access, Consumer Interests and Public Welfare


Book edited by Bundesministerium der Justiz und für Verbraucherschutz, and Max-Planck-Institut für Innovation und Wettbewerb: “Data are considered to be key for the functioning of the data economy as well as for pursuing multiple public interest concerns. Against this backdrop this book strives to device new data access rules for future legislation. To do so, the contributions first explain the justification for such rules from an economic and more general policy perspective. Then, building on the constitutional foundations and existing access regimes, they explore the potential of various fields of the law (competition and contract law, data protection and consumer law, sector-specific regulation) as a basis for the future legal framework. The book also addresses the need to coordinate data access rules with intellectual property rights and to integrate these rules as one of multiple measures in larger data governance systems. Finally, the book discusses the enforcement of the Government’s interest in using privately held data as well as potential data access rights of the users of connected devices….(More)”.

Using Open Data to Monitor the Status of a Metropolitan Area: The Case of the Metropolitan Area of Turin


Paper by Candela, Filippo; and Mulassano, Paolo: “The paper presents and discusses the method adopted by Compagnia di San Paolo, one of the largest European philanthropic institutions, to monitor the advancement, despite the COVID-19 situation, in providing specific input to the decision-making process for dedicated projects. An innovative approach based on the use of daily open data was adopted to monitor the metropolitan area with a multidimensional perspective. Several open data indicators related to the economy, society, culture, environment, and climate were identified and incorporated into the decision support system dashboard. Indicators are presented and discussed to highlight how open data could be integrated into the foundation’s strategic approach and potentially replicated on a large scale by local institutions. Moreover, starting from the lessons learned from this experience, the paper analyzes the opportunities and critical issues surrounding the use of open data, not only to improve the quality of life during the COVID-19 epidemic but also for the effective regulation of society, the participation of citizens, and their well-being….(More)”

Unlocking Responsible Access to Data to Increase Equity and Economic Mobility


Report by the Markle Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF): “Economic mobility remains elusive for far too many Americans and has been declining for several decades. A person born in 1980 is 50% less likely to earn more than their parents than a person born in 1950 is. While all children who grow up in low-opportunity neighborhoods face mobility challenges, racial, ethnic, and gender disparities add even more complexity. In 99% of neighborhoods in America, Black boys earn less, and are more likely to fall into poverty, than white boys, even when they grow up on the same block, attend the same schools, and have the same family income. In 2016, a Pew Research study found that the median wealth of white households was ten times the median wealth of Black households and eight times that of Hispanic households. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated existing disparities, as communities of color suffer higher exposure and death rates, along with greater job loss and increased food and housing insecurity.

Reversing this overall decline to address the persistent racial, ethnic, and gender gaps in economic mobility is one of the great challenges of our time. Some progress has been made in identifying the causes and potential solutions to declining mobility, yet policymakers, researchers, and the public still lack access to critical data necessary to understand which policies, programs, interventions, and investments are most effective at creating opportunity for students and workers, particularly those struggling with intergenerational poverty. Data collected across all levels of governments, nonprofit organizations, and private sector companies can help answer foundational policy and research questions on what drives economic mobility. There are promising efforts underway to improve government data infrastructure and processes at both the federal and state levels, but critical data often remains siloed, and legitimate concerns about privacy and civil liberties can make data difficult to share. Often, data on vulnerable populations most in need of services is of poor quality or is not collected at all.

To tackle this challenge, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and the Markle Foundation (Markle) spent much of 2020 working with a diverse range of experts to identify strategic opportunities to accelerate progress towards unlocking data to improve policymaking, answer foundational research questions, and ensure that individuals can easily and responsibly access the information they need to make informed decisions in a rapidly changing environment….(More)”.