The centrepiece of many governments’ open data initiatives is a government-wide policy committing to releasing new government data and to setting standards for how data is released. This policy serves as the primary substantive description of how the government will manage and release information. Open data policies should be practically aspirational, meaning that they should both define a vision for why the policy is being implemented, while also being able to provide actionable steps for government and relevant oversight authorities to follow to see the policy through to implementation. Creating regulations or guidance can ensure a strong, reliable policy, and usually means the difference between a policy passed for show versus policy passed for substance.
Open data access is a broad concept, and a well-designed open data policy should be relevant to many different communities. A strong policy requires consultation and collaboration with stakeholders both inside and outside government, both during the development of the policy and in its implementation.
Open government data policies are often best when developed iteratively, adapting to help strengthen and grow fledgling efforts and to identify where continued revision is needed. By being open (or even requiring) future review and iteration, open data policies will be able to keep current with best practices, technological advances, and feedback from existing policy oversight.
- Create opportunities and channels to engage with data users – such as consultations, social media accounts, dedicated email addresses and staff who are able to process and respond.
- Hold broad, inclusive consultations to take advantage of public expertise and build a legitimate process. Assign specific responsibilities for hosting consultations and pay special attention to excluded communities.
- Proactively solicit for information from prospective data users about what kinds of information they would like – both initially and on an ongoing basis.
- Review existing policies and barriers to open data access and reuse that may exist in the country.
- Assign specific responsibility for drafting the policy, while involving government officials from across government. This should include responsibility for incorporating public suggestions into the policies.
- Create requirements to establish open data as the default, ranging from data standards to new requirements for designing new data systems, to crafting complimentary laws with publication and data standards built in from the start.
- The policy should include deadlines and actionable goals and benchmarks that can be used as a metric for compliance.
- Consider establishing a single authority empowered to resolve conflicts, provide consistent oversight, and ensure compliance. This may be a role for an existing Information Commissioner or a new authority.
- Ensure sufficient funding is dedicated for implementation.
- Build new iterations of the policy after its release, to strengthen it.