Making Cities Open by Default: Lessons from open data pioneers

City governments play a vital role in building communities where people can live, work, and play, as well as fostering resilient and sustainable development. Cities are responsible for providing basic services that most directly impact the lives of the public. There is a growing movement to give people access to the data and information that they need to hold city leaders to account for the decisions they make and the services they deliver.

For this report, the Charter and OpenNorth investigated the opportunities and challenges faced by cities improving their open data programme, and specifically the role that the Charter can play in supporting this process.

We spoke to government officials, politicians and civil society from four cities (Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg) and one province (Ontario) in Canada, as well as three international cities (Lviv – Ukraine, Buenos Aires – Argentina and Durham – US).

Case Study: Open Government Data in Rio de Janeiro City

This case study of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) will examine the challenges for local public sector organization in terms of agenda setting, formulation of public policy, implementation and evaluation channels/models. It is designed around six sections related to:

  1. Emergence;
  2. Policy Design;
  3. Supply and Information Resources;
  4. Users;
  5. Impacts; and,
  6. Final Considerations.

In the creation of this case study, we undertook structured visits to the open data portals of the city, carried out interviews with staff, managers and users of open data and conducted surveys of hackathon participants of Rio de Janeiro. It is important to highlight that Rio de Janeiro has more than one open data portal, each with different objectives and datasets. This report looks at a variety of open data efforts in the city. One of the authors has also been working inside the municipality over part of the period of this research, and so findings are complemented with participant observations where relevant. This data collection was carried out between June and October 2013.

Harnessing Open Data to Achieve Development Results in Asia and Africa (Open Data in Asia and Africa, ODAA)

Working with a diverse set of partners on a broad range of sector-specific challenges and applying appropriate support and mentoring strategies allowed for targeted exploration of demand-driven and ecosystem approach to open data in developing countries. Taken together, the findings from the various projects each contribute to our understanding of how open data ecosystems operate and thrive. Design and scaling open data solutions and interventions that are mindful of these insights will allow open data to impact positively on the lives of ordinary citizens in developing countries.

Open Data in Developing Countries: Phase Two

The goal of the Web Foundation’s open data research programme is clear. We want to equip policymakers and shapers with actionable insights to ensure that open data becomes a powerful tool for development, particularly in the Global South. In line with this mission, in 2014 we completed the first phase of our Exploring the Emerging Impacts of Open Data in Developing Countries (ODDC). This phase – ODDC1 – was an important first step, but we knew we had to go further. So, we embarked on ODDC2 – further synthesis research around common themes which arose across many of the projects. We deliberately chose not to focus on the technical aspects of open data, but rather on the social, political and legal aspects required to build a thriving open data community – one which is capable of using open data as a tool to improve the day to day lives of citizens. The results of these projects are available here.

Exploring Emerging Impacts of Open Data in Developing Countries: Phase One

Exploring the Emerging Impacts of Open Data in Developing Countries (ODDC) is a multi-country, multi-year study to understand the use and impact of open data in developing countries across the world.

The project explores how open data can foster improved governance, support citizens’ rights, and promote more inclusive development through looking at the emerging impacts of existing open data projects in developing countries. This work is designed to inform the development of planned and on-going open data initiatives in the South. The project worked through a series of open data case studies in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. These case studies examine initiatives, the governance challenges they propose to address, and emerging outcomes and impacts from the application of open data in these contexts. The project also developed cross-cutting data collection instruments and analysis approaches to help explain if and how open data is bringing change to developing countries. Finally, it engaged with global and local policymaking and practice in order to improve developmental outcomes of these initiatives.

Over a hundred researchers from the global South have been involved in developing 17 qualitative case studies with findings that span 13 countries, from Indonesia to Brazil. These studies describe a wide range of open data efforts, including top-down initiated projects, led by governments and donors; bottom-up efforts, led by technology communities or civil society organisations; and sector-specific initiatives focussed on very specific datasets.

The projects and publications that emerged from Phase One are available here.