The need for proper consultation processes around Open Data

ConsultationsLast week, on January 30th, Open Government Institute together with E-Government Center organized a working meeting with open data coordinators from Ministries and public agencies.

The meeting had a number of objectives among which:

  • Setting the scene for 2015;
  • Sharing some practical examples on the use of open data;
  • Reflecting on ways to improve the consultation processes around open data in order to boost more demand for open data;
  • Assigning open data coordinators with a task: identify one ambitious open data commitment that could be part of the Action Plan on Open Government for years 2015-2016.

Whether the meeting managed to achieve its objectives remains to be seen from the way this agenda moves forward in the year 2015.

The open data agenda is not a new one for Moldova … Moldovan Government, like many other Governments from around the globe, has acknowledged, more than three years ago, that opening up the data collected by the Government can increase government transparency and generate more public trust, stimulate innovative approaches and help in improving governments’ performance results.

The open data portal started to gain more popularity in 2014 and thus, registered 787 open data sets available to the public, 4 new public institutions joined the platform and more than 222 thousands downloads took place last year.
One aspect which was at the core of January 30th meeting related to the way public institutions consult their stakeholders who might be interested in particular open data sets. The discussion revealed that there is no proper consultation process in place when it comes to open data, even though open data is like any other policy issue which needs to undergo the same process as any other initiative (as per Law on Transparency in the decision making process from 13.11. 2008).

There is still this tendency among many public servants to state that civil society is not interested in, that the general population has no clue about what the data is and what is the data important/or what is it for, etc.

me_moderatingOr, may be, the issue is with the public institutions themselves who do not apply adequate practices and tools to reach out to potential users of the data, do outreach and identify what are their interests and needs. Isn’t it something that fits into the government’s job?! Isn’t the government the one to work for its people and working for its people means hearing what they have to say, on different dimensions?!

There are some very simple and clear steps in any consultation process and they relate to the following:

  • Mapping all the potentially interested stakeholders;
  • Defining, together with key stakeholders, the main objectives of the consultation process;
  • Selecting/identifying most appropriate/ relevant consultation methods and tools (cost-effectiveness is to be considered as well);
  • Setting a time line for consultations;
  • Preparing both online and offline resources needed for a proper consultation process;
  • Sharing with the wider public about the consultations being announced and thus allowing as many other interested parties to get engaged;
  • Sharing with the public what suggestions/recommendations have been received;
  • Doing an analyses of the proposals received and providing feedback to those who provided contributions. This will definitely increase the chances for their participation any other time;
  • Review/evaluate how the consultation process worked, capitalize on the experience and draw lessons which could be valuable in the next consultation rounds.

There are some principles to be considered as well and they relate to:

  • Clear language – don’t depart in the interaction with different stakeholders’ groups from the assumption that everyone is an expert in the field. This is totally wrong. The language used during the consultation process has to be adjusted in a way that responds to the needs, readiness, education, perceptions of those whom are being addressed;
  • Diversify the platforms for interaction – even the classical round table meetings can be much more participant centered and more dynamic as compared to a presenter-centered model;
  • Provide feedback on any comment received – it is important that people feel empowered, and it does not matter if it is a “Thank You for your comment” message, it is important that there is a communication going on. Without it there is no trust, openness and no participation.

I am very much aware of how much resistance is still there in the public sector towards things which are new, towards changes that are being required …  but any positive change leads to another positive change, and isn’t it something we want for the society we live in today?!

By Veronica Cretu (President, Open Government Institute) 

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