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My dream: Open Data, Open Dialogue, Open Democracies

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Diversity and inclusion


Graphic showing a man with a speech bubble in the shape of a globe coming out of his mouth, circled by arrows and cogs

Open data is data that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone.

My dream is #3OD. That is: open data coupled with open dialogue to achieve open democracies – but we are not there yet…

Not everything that counts is counted. Not everything that’s counted is accessible. And not everything that’s accessible is used innovatively to inform policies and behaviour change, and to improve outcomes for citizens.

Creating #3OD to challenge our data infrastructure

It is time to challenge the norm that simply 'publishing data informs policy change', and to recognise that ‘how and where the data is published’ affects data use, understanding and impact.

In a digital age, permanent data websites – unlike one-off data reports – can better inform user choices, change policies and behaviours, if the following two principles are applied to our data infrastructure:

  1. open, accessible data that focuses on quality and trust – data should be presented in accessible ways to meet the needs of multiple users for simple data, raw data, and downloadable data, and to build trust in the data
  2. open dialogue about data – to enable trust in and understanding of data; debunk myths and facilitate disruptive thinking; and empower expert and non-expert users, to inform choices, behaviours and policies, to improve outcomes

“Data use can be a driver for progress – it enables people to make better choices and hold Governments to account.”

John Pullinger, National Statistician, Office for National Statistics

The data spectrum: open–shared–closed

It is vital and appropriate to continually insist that data about taxpayers should be freely accessible to them, while also challenging data that is not currently open, in order to understand why.  

The possibilities from open data are significant – to access, use and analyse it; identify causal drivers, trends and impact; challenge assumptions and bust myths; fill data gaps; and create new products and services; and for wider public or commercial use. For their part, service providers can respond through greater transparency, accountability and better services.

Websites about data and the data infrastructure are evolving rapidly, as open data websites offer permanence and allow for greater user focus, and – potentially – empowerment, to build and sustain trust with the user.

“It’s important to be curious– data allows us to gain insights and ask ‘what does it mean?' Data websites help to bring that to life!”

Sandra Kerr, Race Equality Director, Business in the Community

Open dialogue

This user-led focus is a key component of the pioneering UK Government Race Disparity Audit’s Ethnicity Facts and Figures website. I am the founding member of this great team and website. It’s creation included extensive dialogue with user groups, including academics, policy-makers at all levels, public, private and charity sector organisations, community groups and members of the public, through user-labs, roundtable discussions and visits across the UK.

This dialogue aided understanding of the data and stimulated debate. It enabled us to really listen to diverse users, identify expectations and challenges, and how we should respond to them.

Ongoing dialogue and data websites can lead to a more informed population and to broader use of data for spin-offs and innovations, so that its impact can become more widespread.

Open data and open dialogue can also encourage open policy-making, enabling policy-makers to acknowledge that they do not yet know the answers and to engage both internally and externally to find them.

Government departments and wider public and private sector organisations may use their data effectively internally. However, they do not necessarily connect with other organisations trying to achieve the same outcome, even when this might be in their mutual interest. This, necessarily, limits the dialogue they have and the outcomes they can achieve.  

Open dialogue offers a bridge between using data and provoking debate to identify how to overcome challenges.  Open data websites can be an effective medium in this space, enabling cross-government or cross-sector dialogue.  

“Examining data enables policy-makers to ask the right questions, but this does not necessarily lead to the answers. Presenting data on an accessible transparent website is a great way to share what Government does know – and provokes debate about what we don’t know.”

Chris Wormald, Permanent Secretary, Department for Health & Social Care, and Head of the Policy Profession

Data to tackle inequality

Wide-ranging user engagement and open dialogue can also facilitate greater mobilisation of the data itself, helping to form powerful narratives and policy and to stimulate behaviour change - including in tackling inequalities, disparities and disadvantage.

“Inequalities data is not new – but in the last 10 years we have seen a mobilisation of inequalities data to tell powerful stories built around a narrative.”

Mike Savage, Director, International Inequalities Institute, LSE

#3OD could become a watershed moment in shaping our data infrastructure, becoming a movement for recognising the value and importance of open data websites to our societies. And it will challenge the norm, recognising that data alone does not inform – and that open dialogue and open data websites that focus on data quality, trustworthiness, transparency, access and presentation for end-user interpretation are vital to open democracies and better outcomes for all.  

“Data has value – it is a new form of creative and cultural capital.  Open data is vital for sound data ecosystems – but building an open data infrastructure is still work in progress…”

Nigel Shadbolt, Chairman and Co-Founder, Open Data Institute

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1 comment

  1. Comment by c posted on

    This sounds like a headache for protecting individuals personal data, which needs to be protected.

    Even if you have all the data in the world, you still have to interpret it correctly. And apply the right remedies.