WHY OPEN DATA?
Many of today’s development obstacles arise as a result of a cocktail of inefficiencies in the public sector coupled with low levels of government transparency and accountability. Open data, accessed via a free and open Web, can empower activists, businesses, governments, civil society groups and others to analyse and link data in new ways. This can in turn enable new, cost-effective solutions to complex and opaque problems, or may allow citizens to spot hidden patterns of waste and corruption. The result? Scarce public resources can go further and deliver more, through a combination of new efficiencies, improved transparency and fresh innovation in private and public sectors alike.
Aware of these possible benefits, a growing number of countries are pursuing open data initiatives to provide citizens with easy access to more, better and machine-readable government data. However, access to data alone does not drive change. Individuals and organisations, both inside and outside the government, need to be equipped with context-relevant tools, skills and knowledge to create relevant participation opportunities and actions. Of course, these tools need to reflect the local environment — what works in London and Lisbon may not work in Lagos or La Paz.
It is this pressing need for home-grown approaches to open data, based on the realities of governance in the Global South, that has encouraged the Web Foundation to launch the Open Data Labs.
WHAT ARE THE OPEN DATA LABS DOING?
There is no single path to finding these home-grown solutions. That’s why the Labs are experimenting with how open data can make a real difference. By trying out new approaches, we want to accelerate progress and ensure open data rapidly becomes a vital tool to tackle practical problems in developing and emerging economies.
We want to find answers to key questions such as:
- Do we need to invest more in government’s ability to collect, produce and use relevant data before open data can start to make a real difference in the lives of citizens?
- Can we develop innovative approaches to fill gaps caused by inconsistent, messy, incomplete and imperfect government data? Can the private sector or citizen crowdsourcing data fill these gaps?
- How can we create a functioning feedback loop to improve governance outcomes, particularly in situations where the vertical accountability of officials to citizens is very weak or absent, or where there is no tradition of evidence-based policymaking?
- What are the most effective routes to impact in developing and emerging country contexts? What is the right balance between short-term incentives and longer-term projects that integrate capacity building with problem solving?
HOW WILL WE ACHIEVE THIS?
The Labs are organized around four key pillars, all of which contribute to the development of workable models and the creation of sustainable knowledge to make open data work.
We conduct and support thematic research into the use and impact of open data in developing and emerging countries. Our aim? To understand the capacities and resources required for successful open data interventions, to inform and improve existing models and approaches, or to uncover wholly new ones.
We provide strategic, technical, legal and organisational advice to build and expand the knowledge and skills needed to supply, access, process, interpret and disseminate open data.
We strengthen capacity through a range of training sessions to help stakeholders understand the opportunities and challenges of open data, and to acquire the skills required to work with tools for accessing, processing and presenting data.
We build and foster a diverse, interdisciplinary community by running regular events — from informal get-togethers to long-term online projects.
WHO ARE WE?
The Open Data Labs are run by the World Wide Web Foundation. We were established by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Web, and we play a leading role in the open data arena globally. We focus our work on the six dimensions of open data — political, economic, legal, technical, social, organisational — and work with a wide range of partners to build a solid research and advocacy platform and test our ideas on the ground.
The Labs work in conjunction with the Web Foundation’s other programs, including the Open Data in Developing Countries and Open Contracting Data Standard projects.