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Open Data Goes Mainstream With G8 Charter

BY David Eaves | Wednesday, June 26 2013

Last week marked a major turning point for open data. It was a moment when the ideas around open data took a big leap out of the CIO's office and the world of advocates and entered more forcefully into the more general world of public policy.

One of the clearest symbols of this shift was the G8 communique - the formal communications published the end of the gathering of some of the world's most powerful heads of state. The communique had a whole section on open data - with the G8 members, through the Open Data Charter, committing their governments to making data "open by default."

This will be a powerful tool. Now when a G8 government is known to have data and is either refusing to publish it, or is publishing it in ways that are not open, this document becomes a powerful way for both advocates and public servants to drive change. Even outside the G8, this document could serve as a best practice and example that may cause other governments to shift.

Indeed Martin Tisne, director of policy at Omidyar Network, sees the charter as critical to maturing the open data movement.

"Our field needs benchmarks to evaluate success. The field of human rights has benchmarks that everyone is measured against," he told me this week in a phone interview. "It becomes easier to call out governments that don't adhere to the benchmarks."

In other words, if the charter becomes a global benchmarking system it could help spur open data to become more globally adopted as well. There are, as Tisne notes, dangers to this. That the benchmarks create a floor that people simply try to adhere to as opposed to motivating governments to innovate further. But, as he notes, it is a "living document" and so the benchmarks have an opportunity to evolve over time.

But the Open Data Charter was not the only part of the G8 communique that referred to open data. In fact, commitments to making specific open data sets as a way to drive policy outcomes could be found throughout the document. There was an entire section of the communique dedicated to "Transparency of companies and legal arrangements." There was also a section where G8 countries either committed to publishing, or beginning a consultation process to explore publishing, data using the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) standard. In addition there was another section where G8 members agreed to publish aid data adhering to both the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) and Busan Common Standard on Aid Transparency by 2015. In each of these cases the government felt that open data could not only enhance transparency, but could advance clear policy objectives, be it reducing fraud and tax evasion by corporations, addressing bribes and the flow of money in the extractive industries process or reducing duplication of resources in foreign aid.

As an open data advocate, the real story out of the G8 is that the G8 countries now agree that, in addition to advancing transparency and innovation, open data can help drive public policy. And that is quite a dramatic shift from where we were just 5 years ago.

I wouldn't be surprised if specific discussions of open data disappear in subsequent G8 documents or meetings, and and instead these references just become part of various issue related commitments.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.