Different countries have different models to govern and administer their open data activities. Ana Brandusescu, Danny Lämmerhirt and Stefaan Verhulst call for a systematic and comparative investigation of the different governance models for open data policy and publication.

The Challenge

An important value proposition behind open data involves increased transparency and accountability of governance. Yet little is known about how open data itself is governed. Who decides and how? How accountable are data holders to both the demand side and policy makers? How do data producers and actors assure the quality of government data? Who, if any, are data stewards within government tasked to make its data open?

Getting a better understanding of open data governance is not only important from an accountability point of view. If there is a better insight of the diversity of decision-making models and structures across countries, the implementation of common open data principles, such as those advocated by the International Open Data Charter, can be accelerated across countries.

In what follows, we seek to develop the initial contours of a research agenda on open data governance models. We start from the premise that different countries have different models to govern and administer their activities – in short, different ‘governance models’. Some countries are more devolved in their decision making, while others seek to organize “public administration” activities more centrally. These governance models clearly impact how open data is governed – providing a broad patchwork of different open data governance across the world and making it difficult to identify who the open data decision makers and data gatekeepers or stewards are within a given country.  

For example, if one wants to accelerate the opening up of education data across borders, in some countries this may fall under the authority of sub-national government (such as states, provinces, territories or even cities), while in other countries education is governed by central government or implemented through public-private partnership arrangements. Similarly, transportation or water data may be privatised, while in other cases it may be the responsibility of municipal or regional government. Responsibilities are therefore often distributed across administrative levels and agencies affecting how (open) government data is produced, and published.

Why does this research matter? Why now?

A systematic and comparative investigation of the different governance models for open data policy and publication has been missing till date. To steer the open data movement toward its next phase of maturity, there is an urgency to understand these governance models and their role in open data policy and implementation.

For instance, the International Open Data Charter states that government data should be “open by default” across entire nations. But the variety of governance systems makes it hard to understand the different levers that could be used to enable nationwide publication of open government data by default. Who holds effectively the power to decide what gets published and what not? By identifying the strengths and weaknesses of governance models, the global open data community (along with the Open Data Charter) and governments can work together and identify the most effective ways to implement open data strategies and to understand what works and what doesn’t.

In the next few months we will seek to increase our comparative understanding of the mechanisms of decision making as it relates to open data within and across government and map the relationships between data holders, decision makers, data producers, data quality assurance actors, data users and gatekeepers or intermediaries. This may provide for insights on how to improve the open data ecosystem by learning from others.

Additionally, our findings may identify the “levers” within governance models used to provide government data more openly. And finally, having more transparency about who is accountable for open data decisions could allow for a more informed dialogue with other stakeholders on performance of the publication of open government data.

We are interested in how different governance models affect open data policies and practices – including the implementations of global principles and commitments. We want to map the open data governance process and ecosystem by identifying the following key stakeholders, their roles and responsibilities in the administration of open data, and seeking how they are connected:

  • Decision makers – Who leads/asserts decision authority on open data in meetings, procedures, conduct, debate, voting and other issues?
  • Data holders – Which organizations / government bodies manage and administer data?
  • Data producers – Which organizations / government bodies produce what kind of public sector information?
  • Data quality assurance actors – Who are the actors ensuring that produced data adhere to certain quality standards and does this conflict with their publication as open data?
  • Data gatekeepers/stewards – Who controls open data publication?

We plan to research the governance approaches to the following types of data:

  • Health: mortality and survival rates, levels of vaccination, levels of access to health care, waiting times for medical treatment, spend per admission
  • Education: test scores for pupils in national examinations, school attendance rates, teacher attendance rates
  • National Statistics: population, GDP, unemployment
  • Transportation: times and stops of public transport services – buses, trains
  • Trade: import and export of specific commodities, balance of trade data against other countries
  • Company registers: list of registered companies in the country, shareholder and beneficial ownership information, lobbying register(s) with information on companies, associations representatives at parliamentary bodies
  • Legislation: national legal code, bills, transcripts of debates, finances of parties

Output of research

We will use different methods to get rapid insights. This includes interviews with stakeholders such as government officials, as well as open government initiatives from various sectors (e.g. public health services, public education, trade). Interviewees may be open data experts, as well as policymakers or open data champions within government.

The type of questions we will seek to answer beyond the broad topic of “who is doing what”

  • Who holds power to assert authority over open data publication? What roles do different actors within government play to design policies and to implement them?
  • What forms of governance models can be derived from these roles and responsibilities? Can we see a common pattern of how decision-making power is distributed? How do these governance models differ?
  • What are criteria to evaluate the “performance of the observed governance models? How do they for instance influence open data policy and implementation?

Call for contributions

We invite all interested in this topic to contribute their ideas and to participate in the design and execution of one or more case studies. Have you done research on this? If so, we would also like to hear from you!

Contact one or all of the authors at:

Ana Brandusescu: ana.brandusescu@webfoundation.org

Danny Lämmerhirt: danny.lammerhirt@okfn.org

Stefaan Verhulst: stefaan@thegovlab.org

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Danny Lämmerhirt works on the politics of data, sociology of quantification, metrics and policy, data ethnography, collaborative data, data governance, as well as data activism. You can follow his work on Twitter at @danlammerhirt. He was research coordinator at Open Knowledge Foundation.

10 thoughts on “Mapping open data governance models: Who makes decisions about government data and how?”

  1. If you are keen to speak to a team involved with a push to make Open Data from the Food Standards Agency available do get in touch. We would be very happy to oblige.

  2. What about OPEN Data from votes in elections? It has been proven in the UK, this happened not long ago: the mayor of Hamlets had to resigned because quite a few votes that helped his elections were false. How would you collect data quickly enough to make sure that no digital data had interfered with the votes for example of the Referendum in the UK? I’m sure there is a way but you need something fast like the Web to find out in one night. Maybe that is the problem, the counting at the end which can destroy countries like it is going to destroy UK.

  3. How would you work to find out if votes in an election are tempered with? you’ll need to be fast because it normally takes just one night to count them which in my opinion is too short a time since it doesn’t give time to check.

  4. Hi,

    Keen to know if you’ve made any progress with your report? Any key findings that you can share?


  5. The key aspects that have made the open data policy in the Brazilian federal government successful can be attributed to:

    * legislation: Decree 8.777 has established roles and procedures for the open data planning and publishing life cycle
    * tie in to existing processes: e.g., access to information requests can also be used to request open data; the access to information authority in each decentralized ministry and agency is also responsible for publishing the open data plan of that organization
    * strong auditing and enforcing: the Court of Accounts and the Comproller-General have been auditing each organization for compliance with the Decree and with their own published open data plans

    I’m available should you want to know more details. I would also like to see an update on your investigation of open data policies and lessons learned.

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