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The global fashion for open data

I have just come back from presenting at the Oman Competitiveness Festival (OCF14). I spoke alongside many local Omani experts, as well as an array of excellent others from across the UK and Europe - from Reform, Behaviour Insights Team, Collaborate and Snook, to Bethnal Green Ventures, Aspire Trust, Localis, Universitat Pompeu Fabra and INudgeYou.

In setting up the conference, the Oman Government wanted to examine the issue of public services innovation, particularly the use of open data to create digital public services and support decision making and transparency. The conference also looked at the ways in which governments today, regardless of their location, need to engage with their citizens - ‘co-production’ and ‘user designed public services’ were common terms.

Supporting smart developers to innovate with data for social and economic impact was seen as a positive measure to be encouraged, and as in the UK, there is a role for the education system to support this vision, with a skills pipeline of developers, data analysts and designers. This starts at school and works its way up through to University and start-up incubators - there needs to be a joined-up ecosystem to support the innovators.

Making the most of open data worldwide

Looking at the excellent example of Helsinki City Council and Forum Virium, I believe the following ingredients are important to success:

  • There needs to be a big vision and a political mandate, ensuring top level engagement - the government has to buy into this agenda and mandate data to be opened up. Without this, it can still happen, but at a much slower pace.
  • Find local champions and give them space to innovate - provide open data competitions, a pipeline of opportunities to have work developed through hacks/collaboration events and follow through with support and commissions.
  • Reach out to the community and involve them - check in with your users to make sure you are developing with and for them, not just for yourself.
  • Make innovation part of the strategy and permit people to take risks, allowing ‘failure’ as well as success.
  • Collaborate with and learn from others worldwide - have a look at Apps for Europe and Code for Europe as good app ideas which are open source and can be copied.

I came away from the conference realising that although we all have very distinctive cultural differences, whether you are Scottish, Omani, Spanish or Dutch, our ambitions are very similar. We all want a voice in democracy. We want transparency. Data provides knowledge and this knowledge can be both useful and powerful.


Jackie McKenzie

Jackie McKenzie

Jackie McKenzie

Head of Innovation Programmes Scotland

Jackie led our Scotland programmes team.  She worked on a range of innovation programmes in Scotland across Nesta's areas of interest including supporting young people, cultural organi…

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