International Open Data Charter: Comments by CIS

The second meeting of Stewards of the International Open Data Charter is in progress in Santiago, Chile, where the revisions made to the Charter based on the comments received during the public consultation period that ended on July 31, 2015, are being re-discussed and finalised by the Stewards. Here we are sharing the comments submitted by us on the first public draft of the Charter published during the International Open Data Conference in Ottawa, Canada, in May 2015. The comments include those submitted by Sumandro and Sharath Chandra Ram.

 

The draft International Open Data Charter and all the submitted comments can be accessed here: http://opendatacharter.net/charter/

 

Comments on the Public Draft

Note: The text below contains excerpts from the public draft of the Charter, followed by submitted comments in bold.

 

1) The world is witnessing the growth of a global movement facilitated by technology and digital media and fuelled by information – one that contains enormous potential to create more accountable, efficient, responsive, and effective governments and businesses, and to spur economic growth.

The word ‘movement’ can perhaps be replaced by ‘transformation.’ ‘Movement’ tends to suggest some kind of unity of purpose or objective, which is not perhaps what is meant here. Also, is it possible to add ‘transparent’ to ‘accountable, efficient, responsive, and effective’?

Open data sit at the heart of this global movement.

Perhaps ‘transformation’ and not ‘movement’.

2) Building a more democratic, just, and prosperous society requires transparent, accountable governments that engage regularly and meaningfully with citizens. Accordingly, there is an ongoing effort to enable collaboration around key social challenges, to provide effective oversight of government activities, to support economic development through innovation, and to develop effective, efficient public policies and programmes.

Perhaps insert ‘sustainable’ before ‘economic development’. In the second sentence, none of the action phrases (‘enable collaboration’ and ‘effective oversight’ and ‘innovation’ and ‘develop effective, efficient’) are speaking about either democracy or justice. The focus seems to be completely on effectiveness. Phrases like ‘transparent’, ‘accountable’, and ‘participatory’ should be introduced here.

Open data is essential to meeting these challenges.

The above point clarifies why ‘data is essential’ but not why ‘open data is essential’. The connection between democracy and justice on one hand, and open data on the other is not yet articulated clearly.

3) Effective access to data allows individuals and organisations to develop new insights and innovations that can generate social and economic benefits to improve the lives of people around the world, and help to improve the flow of information within and between countries. While governments collect a wide range of data, they do not always share these data in ways that are easily discoverable, useable, or understandable by the public.

Along with allowing ‘insights’ and ‘innovations’ to develop, can it also be highlighted that open data make decisions and processes transparent?

This is a missed opportunity.

I agree with above comments that it is perhaps better to articulate this not as ‘missed opportunity’ but to highlight this as the very ‘opportunity’ that the open data agenda is interested in capturing.

4) Today, many people expect to be able to access high quality information and services, including government data, when and how they want. Others see the opportunity presented by government data as one which can provide innovative policy solutions and support economic and social benefits for all members of society. We have arrived at a point at which people can use open data to generate value, insights, ideas, and services to create a better world for all.

This point may also mention that some people are interested in using government data to open up government decisions and processes and make them transparent, which is a necessary condition for making the government accountable.

6) Providing access to government data can drive sustainable and inclusive growth by empowering citizens, the media, civil society, and the private sector to identify gaps, and work toward better outcomes for public services in areas such as health, education, public safety, environmental protection, and governance. Open data can do this by:

Perhaps ‘democratic participation’ can be added after ‘sustainable and inclusive growth’. That is: ‘Providing access to government data can drive sustainable and inclusive growth, and democratic participation, by empowering citizens…’

7) Open government data can be used in innovative ways to create useful tools and products that help to navigate modern life more easily. Used in this way, open data are a catalyst for innovation in the private sector, supporting the creation of new markets, businesses, and jobs. These benefits can multiply as more private sector and civil society organisations adopt open data practices modelled by government and share their own data with the public.

The incentive for private sector and CSOs to open up data is not clear. Overall benefit may rise with them opening up data, but how does a private company / CSO benefit by opening up its data?

8) We, the adherents to the International Open Data Charter, agree that open data are an under-used resource with huge potential to encourage the building of stronger, more interconnected societies that better meet the needs of our citizens and allow innovation and prosperity to flourish.

Along with ‘stronger’ and ‘more interconnected’, please mention ‘more transparent’ and ‘more democratic’. Also it is not clear what is meant by ‘stronger’. ‘[B]etter meet the needs of our citizens’ does not necessarily suggest a more democratic or just society, but a more effective welfare distribution system. Please add ‘… and empower the citizens to ensure accountability of the government.’

9) We therefore agree to follow a set of principles that will be the foundation for access to, and the release and use of, open government data. These principles are:

  1. Open Data by Default;
  2. Quality and Quantity;
  3. Accessible and Useable by All;
  4. Engagement and Empowerment of Citizens;
  5. Collaboration for Development and Innovation

Does it makes sense to remove the ‘Quantity and Quality’ point and merging it with ‘Accessible and Usable by All’? Data quantity and quality issues, along with those related to publication of data, can all logically follow under the topic of data access and use. For example, highly aggregated data published once a year without documentation is not really usable data.

10) We will develop an action plan in support of the implementation of the Charter and its Technical Annexes, and will update and renew the action plan at a minimum of every two years. We agree to commit the necessary resources to work within our political and legal frameworks to implement these principles in accordance with the technical best practices and timeframes set out in our action plan.

We (at CIS) strongly feel that the Charter should also prescribe that along with the national Action Plan, Open Data Citizen’s Charters are created for various levels and verticals of the government. This will clarify data publication responsibilities and targets at ministerial and sub-national (including city) governmental levels, and will allow for much more effective monitoring (national and international) of the Action Plan implementation process.

‘[A]t a minimum of every two years’ reads a bit unclear. Does it mean that the Action Plan should be renewed only after two years and not before, or that the Action Plan should be renewed every two years or before that?

11) We recognise that free access to, and the subsequent use of, government data are of significant value to society and the economy, and that government data should, therefore, be open by default.

Along with clarifying the scope of ‘government data,’ the idea of ‘open’ in the context of data needs a clear definition as an independent point. The document is getting into ‘open by default’ without clarifying what is ‘open’, including both necessary and sufficient conditions.

12) We acknowledge the need to promote the global development and adoption of tools and policies for the creation, use, and exchange of open data and information.

I agree with Mike Linksvayer. This is a great opportunity for the Charter to connect the open data agenda with the wider open agendas, especially that of free and open source softwares. It is very important that this point promotes ‘global development of free and open source tools’.

Extending the comment by Jose Subero, along with ‘tools’ and ‘policies’, it will be great to have a mention of ‘standards’ here, which is critical for ensuring ‘interoperability’ and thus ‘harmonisation’.

13) We recognise that the term ‘government data’ is meant in the widest sense possible. This could apply to data held by national, federal, and local governments, international government bodies, and other types of institutions in the wider public sector. This could also apply to data created for governments by external organisations, and data of significant benefit to the public which is held by external organisations and related to government programmes and services (e.g. data on extractives entities, data on transportation infrastructure, etc).

It is wonderful that the point promotes a wide understanding of ‘government data’ but at the same time it should also define a necessary core understanding of data, just to ensure that governments do not interpret this point too narrowly.

Further, a focus only on data created by public agencies can perhaps be too narrow (for the necessary/core understanding of ‘government data’). With public services delivered increasingly by private agencies and public-private-partnerships, it is crucial that ‘government data’ should explicitly include any data coming out of a process funded by public money (the process may be carried out by a public agency or not). This is an extremely important point from a developing country perspective.

14) We recognise that there is domestic and international legislation, in particular pertaining to security, privacy, confidentiality, intellectual property, and personally-identifiable and other sensitive information, which must be observed and/or updated where necessary.

From a developing country perspective, it is very important that the Charter does not keep this critical point dependent on domestic and international legislations. International legislation may not be very developed for all of the mentioned topics, and many countries may not have existing domestic legislations on these topics either. The Charter should mention an internationally acceptable list of concerns / criteria for not opening up data. The list may include the topics mentioned here, like privacy and national security. This need not be a list of sufficient criteria, but of necessary ones.

15) We will:

  • develop and adopt policies and practices to ensure that all government data is made open by default, as outlined in this Charter, while recognising that there are legitimate reasons why some data cannot be released;

'Administrative reforms’ are most often crucial to make government data ‘open by default, and the same should be mentioned along with ‘policies’ and ‘practices’.

  • provide clear justifications as to why certain data cannot be released;

This is a great point. Perhaps it can be added that all government agencies should produce a list of all data assets maintained by them, point out the ones that cannot be made open, and provide clear justification as to why those cannot be released. This comment pre-empts 19.1. Perhaps this point about providing justification for not releasing data can be merged with 19.1.

  • develop the leadership, management, oversight, and internal communication policies necessary to enable this transition to a culture of openness.

Along with ‘leadership, management, oversight, and internal communication’, is it possible to add ‘incentives’? This is often overlooked in implementing open data policies.

16) We recognise that governments and other public sector organisations hold vast amounts of information that may be of interest to citizens, and that it may take time to identify data for release or publication.

17) We also recognise the importance of consulting with citizens, other governments, non-governmental organisations, and other open data users, to identify which data to prioritise for release and/or improvement.

18) We agree, however, that governments’ primary responsibility should be to release data in a timely manner, without undue delay.

Points 16-18 seem to suggest that the ‘quantity and quality’ issue is mostly one of prioritisation. This can be misleading. This is perhaps the ‘quantity’ issue, but not at all the ‘quality’ issue.

19) We will:

  • ...
  • release high-quality open data that are timely, comprehensive, and accurate in accordance with prioritisation that is informed by public requests. To the extent possible, data will be released in their original, unmodified form and at the finest level of granularity available, and will also be linked to any visualisations or analyses created based on the data, as well as any relevant guidance or documentation;

Please add ‘human- and machine-readable’ along with ‘timely, comprehensive, and accurate’.

Put ‘, and’ between ‘, and accurate’ and ‘in accordance’.

‘Relevant guidance or documentation’ should be mentioned before, and not after, ‘visualisations or analyses’.

  • ensure that accompanying documentation is written in clear, plain language, so that it can be easily understood by all;

Add that the documentation should be ‘comprehensive’, along with being written in plain language.

  • make sure that data are fully described, and that data users have sufficient information to understand their source, strengths, weaknesses, and any analytical limitations;

Regarding ‘Full description of data’ — Aggregate data must be accompanied by low level raw data along with details of analytical methods used to arrive at figures. This allows for verification as well as alternate views and detection of statistical anomalies.

  • ensure that open datasets include consistent core metadata, and are made available in human- and machine-readable formats under an open and unrestrictive licence;

Is this the necessary definition of ‘open data’? If so, it should be much higher up.

  • allow users to provide feedback, and continue to make revisions to ensure the quality of the data is improved as needed; and

This point should clarify if it is talking about making revisions of the data itself (its content), or how it is being published (its form), or both?

  • apply consistent information lifecycle management practices, and ensure historical copies of datasets are preserved, archived, and kept accessible as long as they retain value.

The ‘as long as they retain value’ part seems vague. Who is going to take this decision about value? Is it possible to rephrase this as ‘as long as they are demanded by data users’?

21) We recognise that open data should be made available free of charge in order to encourage their widest possible use.

Maybe ‘government data’ and not ‘open data’ (open data already means it is available gratis). Also, along with ‘free of charge’ maybe add ‘under open license’, as that is a critical requirement for ‘widest possible use.’

22) We recognise that when open data are released, they should be made available without bureaucratic or administrative barriers, such as mandatory user registration, which can deter people from accessing the data.

I strongly believe that this point should be removed. Registration of the data user can also be very useful for the government agencies to track demand and actual usage of their datasets. Instead of the government agencies doing such kind of tracking as a background process, it is much better if the data usage monitoring of all users is done transparently. Along with perhaps a public dashboard of data usages of the users of an open data portal. As long as the registration barrier does not involve an approval process by the government agency, it can be allowed.

A more general point should be added as part of this principle, regarding no-discrimination (or approval process) among data users interested in accessing and using of open government data.

23) We will:

  • release data in open formats and free of charge to ensure that the data are available to the widest range of users to find, access, and use them. In many cases, this will include providing data in multiple formats, so that they can be processed by computers and used by people; and

Please add ‘open license’ along with ‘open formats’ and ‘free of charge’.

24) We recognise that the release of open data strengthens our public and democratic institutions, encourages better development, implementation, and assessment of policies to meet the needs of our citizens, and enables more meaningful, better informed engagement between governments and citizens.

Perhaps add ‘, and makes them transparent’ after ‘strengthens our public and democratic institutions’. Please also add ‘monitoring’ along with ‘development, implementation, and assessment’.

25) We will:

  • implement oversight and review processes to report regularly on the progress and impact of our open data initiatives;

The functioning of these ‘oversight and review processes’ must be open and transparent themselves. The reporting should be public.

  • engage with community and civil society representatives working in the domain of transparency and accountability to determine what data they need to effectively hold governments to account; encourage the use of open data to develop innovative, evidence-based policy solutions that benefit all members of society, as well as empower marginalised groups; and

This must also include a point regarding the government proactively seeking data demands from citizens, CSOs, academics, and the private sector.

‘as well as empower marginalised groups’ is too vague. Perhaps it can be made into a separate point, and qualified with what kinds of empowerment is needed – from demanding data, to accessing and using data, to be aware of the data collected from such groups by the government agencies.

  • be transparent about our own data collection, standards, and publishing processes, by documenting all of these related processes online.

This should be part of point 19.

26) We recognise the importance of diversity in stimulating creativity and innovation. The more citizens, governments, civil society, and the private sector use open data, the greater the social and economic benefits that will be generated. This is true for government, commercial, and non-commercial uses.

The diversity point is almost already made with points 20-21 – widest possible users lead to widest possible use.

28) We will:

  • ...
  • engage with civil society, the private sector, and academic representatives to determine what data they need to generate social and economic value;

This is also covered under the Principle 3.

  • provide training programs, tools, and guidelines designed to ensure government employees are capable of using open data effectively in policy development processes;

This should be part of Principle 1.

  • encourage non-governmental organisations to open up data created and collected by them in order to move toward a richer open data ecosystem with multiple sources of open data;

I agree with ABS. Why not ‘non-governmental organisations and the private sector’?

Also the document shifts back and forth between ‘civil society organisations’ and ‘non-governmental organisations’. If both mean the same in this document, then it should use only one.

 

General Comments on the Charter

 

1. Why not merge the Principle 4 and 5 so as to describe an overall situation of engagement and collaboration. The ends can be commercial acts or towards democratic practices, but the existing principles do not make much a difference between the two types of acts.

2. Further, can a new principle be added at the end that would address the implementation process of the Action Plan? Specifically, it should clarify how the implementation itself be an open process, with not only the Action Plan but annual reports regarding the status of implementation. This principle may connect to the work being done by the Implementation WG.

 

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