The following is the joint Submission to the UN Secretary General’s Independent Expert Advisory Group on a Data Revolution from the World Wide Web Foundation, Open Knowledge, Fundar and the Open Institute, October 15, 2014. It derives from and builds on the Global Open Data Initiative’s Declaration on Open Data.
To the UN Secretary General’s Independent Expert Advisory Group on a Data Revolution
Societies cannot develop in a fair, just and sustainable manner unless citizens are able to hold governments and other powerful actors to account, and participate in the decisions fundamentally affecting their well-being. Accountability and participation, in turn, are meaningless unless citizens know what their government is doing, and can freely access government data and information, share that information with other citizens, and act on it when necessary.
A true “revolution” through data will be one that enables all of us to hold our governments accountable for fulfilling their obligations, and to play an informed and active role in decisions fundamentally affecting their well-being.
We believe such a revolution requires ambitious commitments to make data open; invest in the ability of all stakeholders to use data effectively; and to commit to protecting the rights to information, free expression, free association and privacy, without which data-driven accountability will wither on the vine.
In addition, opening up government data creates new opportunities for SMEs and entrepreneurs, drives improved efficiency and service delivery innovation within government, and advances scientific progress. The initial costs (including any lost revenue from licenses and access charges) will be repaid many times over by the growth of knowledge and innovative data-driven businesses and services that create jobs, deliver social value and boost GDP.
The Sustainable Development Goals should include measurable, time-bound steps to:
1. Make data open by default
Government data should be open by default, and this principle should ultimately be entrenched in law. Open means that data should be freely available for use, reuse and redistribution by anyone for any purpose and should be provided in a machine-readable form (specifically it should be open data as defined by the Open Definition and in line with the 10 Open Data Principles).
- Government information management (including procurement requirements and research funding, IT management, and the design of new laws, policies and procedures) should be reformed as necessary to ensure that such systems have built-in features ensuring that open data can be released without additional effort.
- Non-compliance, or poor data quality, should not be used as an excuse for non-publication of existing data.
- Governments should adopt flexible intellectual property and copyright policies that encourage unrestricted public reuse and analysis of government data.
2. Put accountability at the core of the data revolution
A data revolution requires more than selective release of the datasets that are easiest or most comfortable for governments to open. It should empower citizens to hold government accountable for the performance of its core functions and obligations. However, research by the Web Foundation and Open Knowledge shows that critical accountability data such as company registers, land record, and government contracts are least likely to be freely available to the public.
At a minimum, governments endorsing the SDGs should commit to the open release by 2018 of all datasets that are fundamental to citizen-state accountability. This should include:
- data on public revenues, budgets and expenditure;
- who owns and benefits from companies, charities and trusts;
- who exercises what rights over key natural resources (land records, mineral licenses, forest concessions etc) and on what terms;
- public procurement records and government contracts;
- office holders, elected and un-elected and their declared financial interests and details of campaign contributions;
- public services, especially health and education: who is in charge, responsible, how they are funded, and data that can be used to assess their performance;
- constitution, laws, and records of debates by elected representatives;
- crime data, especially those related to human rights violations such as forced disappearance and human trafficking;
- census data;
the national map and other essential geodata.
- Governments should create comprehensive indices of existing government data sets, whether published or not, as a foundation for new transparency policies, to empower public scrutiny of information management, and to enable policymakers to identify gaps in existing data creation and collection.
3. Provide no-cost access to government data
One of the greatest barriers to access to ostensibly publicly-available information is the cost imposed on the public for access–even when the cost is minimal. Most government information is collected for governmental purposes, and the existence of user fees has little to no effect on whether the government gathers the data in the first place.
Governments should remove fees for access, which skew the pool of who is willing (or able) to access information and preclude transformative uses of the data that in turn generates business growth and tax revenues.
Governments should also minimise the indirect cost of using and re-using data by adopting commonly owned, non-proprietary (or “open”) formats that allow potential users to access the data without the need to pay for a proprietary software license.
Such open formats and standards should be commonly adopted across departments and agencies to harmonise the way information is published, reducing the transaction costs of accessing, using and combining data.
4. Put the users first
Experience shows that open data flounders without a strong user community, and the best way to build such a community is by involving users from the very start in designing and developing open data systems.
Within government: The different branches of government (including the legislature and judiciary, as well as different agencies and line ministries within the executive) stand to gain important benefits from sharing and combining their data. Successful open data initiatives create buy-in and cultural change within government by establishing cross-departmental working groups or other structures that allow officials the space they need to create reliable, permanent, ambitious open data policies.
Beyond government: Civil society groups and businesses should be considered equal stakeholders alongside internal government actors. Agencies leading on open data should involve and consult these stakeholders – including technologists, journalists, NGOs, legislators, other governments, academics and researchers, private industry, and independent members of the public – at every stage in the process.
Stakeholders both inside and outside government should be fully involved in identifying priority datasets and designing related initiatives that can help to address key social or economic problems, foster entrepreneurship and create jobs. Government should support and facilitate the critical role of both private sector and public service intermediaries in making data useful.
5. Invest in capacity
Governments should start with initiatives and requirements that are appropriate to their own current capacity to create and release credible data, and that complement the current capacity of key stakeholders to analyze and reuse it. At the same time, in order to unlock the full social, political and economic benefits of open data, all stakeholders should invest in rapidly broadening and deepening capacity.
Governments and their development partners need to invest in making data simple to navigate and understand, available in all national languages, and accessible through appropriate channels such as mobile phone platforms where appropriate.
Governments and their development partners should support training for officials, SMEs and CSOs to tackle lack of data and web skills, and should make complementary investments in improving the quality and timeliness of government statistics.
6. Improve the quality of official data
Poor quality, coverage and timeliness of government information – including administrative and sectoral data, geospatial data, and survey data – is a major barrier to unlocking the full value of open data.
Governments should develop plans to implement the Paris21 2011 Busan Action Plan, which calls for increased resources for statistical and information systems, tackling important gaps and weaknesses (including the lack of gender disaggregation in key datasets), and fully integrating statistics into decision-making.
Governments should bring their statistical efforts into line with international data standards and schemas, to facilitate reuse and analysis across various jurisdictions.
Private firms and NGOs that collect data which could be used alongside government statistics to solve public problems in areas such as disease control, disaster relief, urban planning, etc. should enter into partnerships to make this data available to government agencies and the public without charge, in fully anonymized form and subject to robust privacy protections.
7. Foster more accountable, transparent and participatory governance
A data revolution cannot succeed in an environment of secrecy, fear and repression of dissent.
The SDGs should include robust commitments to uphold fundamental rights to freedom of expression, information and association; foster independent and diverse media; and implement robust safeguards for personal privacy, as outlined in the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In addition, in line with their commitments in the UN Millennium Declaration (2000) and the Declaration of the Open Government Partnership (2011), the SDGs should include concrete steps to tackle gaps in participation, inclusion, integrity and transparency in governance, creating momentum and legitimacy for reform through public dialogue and consensus.
This submission derives and follows on from the Global Open Data Inititiave’s Global Open Data Declaration which was jointly created by Fundar, Open Institute, Open Knowledge and World Wide Web Foundation and the Sunlight Foundation with input from civil society organizations around the world.
The full text of the Declaration can be found here: