The good, the bad and the difficult part of open data

The good, the bad and the difficult part of open data

By Diana D’ Herrera

This blog was originally published in Spanish on Cívica Digital’s website.

Through a partnership between the Open Data CharterTransparencia Mexicana, the National Digital Strategy Office of the Mexican government and my organisation — Cívica Digital; we held a series of sessions on 14th and 15th August with government officials to evaluate 30 datasets from the Anti-corruption Open-Up Guide.

Alongside public servants, we had the opportunity to learn first-hand how government officials are generating and using data, and the key barriers they face in the opening and publishing of such data.

At the end of the sessions, we identified key challenges that government offices face. Amongst the most relevant were:

Interoperability

One of the recurrent themes throughout the sessions was that existing systems in different government offices were not intended to be open or built to communicate with each other. Hence, there is a need to identify points of contact across systems to be able to build internal processes that are efficient and transparent across board.

Information quality and feedback

The impact of open data is as good as the quality of the data. During the sessions, it was noted that there are few existing feedback mechanisms where users can highlight faults and make recommendations on the data capture and production process. Civil society, in particular, has very limited scope to offer recommendations to those generating data.

Technical feasibility

Most government offices showed a lack of technical capacity, in personnel, systems and other resources needed to process the large amounts of data that is being produced. It was also identified that some public offices depend on renewing private providers’ licenses to carry out their work, which in turn hampers their internal capacity.

The Good

It was refreshing to hear that most government offices have in place tangible actions to improve access to data, along with actions to combat corruption. For example, implementation of similar systems across government entities has reduced technical gaps and facilitated operation.

We believe that shedding light on internal processes is a first step towards generating data that is relevant to tackle corruption. Additionally, collaboration with public offices is a good tactic to foster an open data culture.

The Bad

Creating mechanisms to tackle corruption through open data is challenging and complex. The lack of interoperability across systems only makes this endeavour more difficult due to differences in internal processes and little communication between relevant actors.

The main political and technical barriers accentuate such efforts, and results usually come later than expected.

The Difficult Part

Corruption networks across Mexico have infiltrated public processes, which have damaged public life and society. Data gathering efforts to map these networks and prevent corruption acts are being carried out on a daily basis, however, the general public has limited or no access to it. Additionally, some government offices are feeling the pressure to open up data given that they have to comply with Transparency Laws; through external requests that oblige them to generate and share data. However, the large amounts of data that are produced can not be processed, analysed and exploited by decision makers.

Final thoughts

The sessions shed light and improved our understanding on the processes government offices have in place to produce and share data. We have identified potential opportunity areas to continue pushing for an open data agenda. There are also promising allies that are willing to use their influence for this work to tackle existing challenges and improve existing public policy practices.

To learn more about the methodology we carried out, click here.

If you would like to know more about these topics and are interested in being a 24/7 citizen, read our Cívica Digital blog.

Diana D Herrera is a Biotechnology Engineer and Product Manager at Cívica Digital, an organisation in Mexico that builds civic technology to empower citizens and help organisations become more open and responsive.