Transparency, at best, makes for unity and positive development in democracies around the world. There are elaborate commentaries on what transparency entails, but for me, transparency translates to open. Think open doors. In any given building in a public space, an open door often turns to an invitation to come in and look around, while a closed one would often need a ‘we are open’ sign to convey the same message.
It goes without saying that accessibility should, therefore, be at the heart of transparency. This is, however, not always the case. In a majority of democracies around the world, accessing and effectively using public data often requires humans to jump over incalculable legislative hoops, difficult-to-use portals or just incomprehensible published data. Where humans survive these, then outdated data, incomplete datasets, lack of follow-up and proper and closely monitored feedback loops with data publishers often make for a complete web of frustration.
Unfortunately, while many administrations and organizations claim to be open, the fact remains that the information they are charged with safe-keeping cannot be accessed by most, easily and in a timely fashion. Thus, their efforts around open data equate to glass walls so clear that people often mistake them for entry spaces. Ever walked into a glass wall? It is as laughable as it is painful, regrettable, often embarrassing and irreversible. And ouch! Everyone gets a headache from bumping into glass walls.
Raising Open and User-friendly, Transparency-Enabling Technologies for Public Administrations (ROUTETOPA) is a Horizon2020 project, funded by the European Union, that seeks to bring down the glass walls, so to speak, by providing online platforms for data publishers to open up data and for open data users to not only access, but converse over, make sense out of and act on the information released.
Through ROUTETOPA’s Transparency Enhancing Toolset (TET), public administrators can publish all public data in their possession, in bulk at first, followed by regular updates ‘as the data happens’. TET is built on the world’s leading open-source data portal platform, CKAN and is designed to help data publishers to deal with the ‘no platform to publish on’ conundrum. TET encourages data publishers, and especially local authorities in this case, to avail data that is of public interest in central locations accessible by all and everyone else to look at the data, ask questions about it, share it with all interested parties for discussion and engage the data publishers in this regard.
ROUTETOPA’s Social Platform for Open Data (SPOD) allows for meaningful social interactions between open data publishers and open data users over open data. Open data enthusiasts can engage with data publishers over data that is availed on public domains, like the Transparency Enhancing Toolset, pushing for clarification and answers, providing feedback and use-cases for the published data, informing and contributing to new policies, among other things.
But, do we really need another social media platform, one may ask.
True, there’s many out there, each unique in its own way, and as some shutdown, more come up. I think we can all attest to the fact that, if you needed to have an open data conversation online today, or to find out about, say, budgeting information for a country you have not been to (like Kenya, where I am from), your audiences and sources and go-to places would be as scattered as mine. The Social Platform for Open Data tries to conglomerate all these conversations, deliberations, debates, et al around open data. Public administrators can involve citizens to find out what they input is before creating policy, citizens can reach out and ask for clarifications on various datasets released, or to send out dataset requests, or … the possibilities around this focused effort are vast.
Map with the locations of Route-to-PA
Currently in its piloting phase in 5 cities and 4 countries in the European Union, the ROUTETOPA project seeks to engage open data enthusiasts in testing and shaping its tools, through workshops, hackathons and data expeditions.
Interested? Send an email to Serah Rono (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we will get you started.
Stay in touch! You can write to Serah – email@example.com