DevCa 2015 and the Caribbean Open Data Community (Part One)
How does the relationship between citizens and their government change in the age of the internet and online social networks? This is one of the questions that drive our search for knowledge and experiences to share at YoGobierno. One notion (among many others) that establishes a pathway for this change is open government data.
Government data is data and information produced or commissioned by government or government controlled entities.
Open data is data that can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone – subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and sharealike.
Globally, there is a growing community of people who are avid advocates of open data, and open government data specifically. The argument is that by allowing anyone to use government data, more transparency and democratic control can be achieved. People from the government, civil society or private sector would be able to use it to create new and improved products and services, government would be more efficient and citizens more involved.
For this to be achieved, the concepts, requirements, uses and potential impact of open data need to be communicated to citizens and their governments, which is why the open data community is constantly sharing actionable knowledge to implement open data practices around the world. Most recently, for example, on February 21, a global Open Data Day was celebrated in over 220 places. People gathered in conferences, workshops, and meetings of all sizes – organized by civil society, governments, or both – to learn what open data is, what can be achieved with it and how, and to discuss the challenges and roadmaps to follow this year.
The open data community in the Caribbean has also been growing strong. Matthew McNaughton wrote about why this has been so, emphasizing that one of the benefits of open data is that it strengthens civil society and regional integration. In the past couple of months, this has been evidenced by a few events led by the Caribbean Open Institute that are all part of Developing the Caribbean, or #DevCa2015. Entering its fourth year, Developing the Caribbean is one of the largest civic technology conferences in the Caribbean, held at various events and in various islands with the aim of “highlighting what’s possible through openness and collaboration”.
The events this year started on February 5th when a conference about open data and a code sprint took place in Trinidad and Tobago, as part of the Caribbean ICT Week. Open data experts talked to participants about various data tools and repositories that they could use during the code sprint and then on. After that, participants gathered in groups and got cracking: they had 24 hours to figure out what to do with the data available at http://data.tt (a data repository initiated by the folks of the Caribbean Open Institute).
It’s clear that 24 hours isn’t much to build impactful applications — the debate about whether or not hackathons are a good idea to build applications has been shaping up for some time now — but in this case, it was enough to get participants thinking about the use and potential of open data.
Irwin Williams, one of the participants, reflected on this when he shared his experience at the event. He explained that while he and his team didn’t have time to finish an application, they were able to build a complete API that “married the existing dataset with knowledge and applied insight,” and was ready to be used by other developers to build apps. By the end of the day, Irwin’s team was declared the winner because, as Dr. Kim Mallalieu put it: “they hit the spot on Open Data”.
The open data community continues to grow globally, and as it does, people are learning more about what it takes to get value out of open data. In this case, the importance of an open data environment was examined and exemplified. (Dr. Maurice McNaughton, Director of the Centre of Excellence of the Mona School of Business of the University of West Indies and an advisor of the Caribbean Open Institute, kindly shared an article that deepens this very idea: “Let’s build the road network of civic tech.”) So, while 24-hour hackathons may not be the best way to build sustainable applications, they are a good exercise to get people thinking about why we actually want open data. More importantly, events like these, when accompanied by thoughtful workshops and seminars, are continuously expanding actionable knowledge about topics that have direct impact on how governments can improve their service to citizens, and in doing so, they are part of the changing relationship among citizens and governments.
In the next article, we’ll share more about what happened in the second event of DevCa 2015. If you have been participating, do get in touch! We want to hear more Caribbean voices in the community (you can also write your own perspective here).