United Nations Open Data Workshop Cape Town

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From October 10th – 12th, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) in cooperation with the Centre for Public Service Information (CPSI) of Ministry for Public Service and Administration of Republic of South Africa will be hosting a workshop titled: “Next Stage in Open Government Data: Using Data for Transparency, Accountability and Collaboration”. I will be attending the three day workshop with a view to connect with experts in this area and learn from other government bodies that have good Open Data maturity levels.

For those unfamiliar with Open Data, opendefinition.org clarifies it in the following way:
“A piece of data is open if anyone is free to use, reuse, and redistribute it — subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and/or share-alike.”

A few of the key questions that will be discussed at the workshop are:
– What is Open Government Data?
– What are the current approaches and trends in Open Government Data initiatives?
– What does “open” mean in Open Government and Open Government Data?
– Why does this matter? And to whom?
– What data do citizens demand? Should governments consider opening up its data even if no clear demand is articulated?

I still believe that the major trends in the online space are Mobile, Social and location. But with Open Data, I believe that Government has a unique trend that runs in parallel with these. In the past year I have advocated for open data sets that can be accessed via API, and while this is the ideal scenario, I have begun to think that we as the Western Cape Government should begin with a more humble offering. Perhaps making well structured excel files available is what we need to get the ball rolling.

There are many Open Data voices in South Africa who are now urging governments to be more transparent and provide open data sets. One of these organisations is Open Data and Democracy Initiative (ODADI) who recently held a hackathon.

The 2012 ODADI Hackathon graphic

 

Example of a Hackathon in Washington DC

Because  many South African Governmental Websites still struggle with mere web presence (Please ignore political agenda in this linked to post and note content) it does feel that massive increased Open Data maturity in South Africa is some way off. Even in the Western Cape, where I feel we have the most advanced online government services, we struggle to move quickly enough to match international trends.
Should we be discouraged? No. Open Data offers the web an opportunity to show it’s value as an important service oriented system, and not just an online noticeboard. In an era of diminishing government budgets, this data will allow politicians and senior civil servants to easily identify high value and sustainable programmes.

I’ll be doing a report back post after the UN workshop, where I plan to share the lesson learnt and suggested ways forward. Till then, check out some of the amazing work being done by Hans Rosling at Gapminder.org

Keep well,
Aslam Levy

 

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