America Abierta 2022 / Photo: Flickr - Open Data Partnership

To achieve data interoperability, we need to start with “people interoperability”

This entry is a guest post by Natalia Carfi, Executive Director of the Open Data Charter, a collaboration between over 170 governments and organization working to open up data based on a shared set of principles.

As Executive Director of Open Data Charter, I spend a lot of time enabling and facilitating data exchanges between ministries, departments, agencies, sectors, and government levels. Data interoperability, or the ability to access and integrate data from multiple different sources for better-informed decision-making, is a key driver of the data revolution. It is thus also at the core of our organisation’s mission to help governments collect, share, and use well-governed data so they can respond effectively and accountably to our most pressing social, economic, and environmental challenges.

Collaborating to boost efficiencies

As a principle, connecting data from different areas of governments can improve data quality via standardisation, which is crucial if we want datasets to be publicly used and reused. Data standardisation can be likened to language, in that, without it, data would not be able to “talk to each other.” Data interoperability is another one of the six international Open Data Charter principles which we encourage governments to adopt when they launch their journey toward open data.

As important as data interoperability is for the open data agenda, through our work with governments, we have also learned the importance of advocating for interoperability between people, too. In other words, we have noticed that different agencies or ministries in the same government rarely interact and collaborate to optimise their data systems for better insights and to boost efficiencies. Most often, they regard themselves as entirely separate entities.

For example, during a recent Open Data Charter data prioritisation workshop, two offices in the same government administration discovered that they were separately labouring to create the identical dataset.

This kind of inadvertent duplication is all too common. Datasets need to “talk” to each other via standards and platforms – so do people inside the government. Collaboration is one of the cornerstones of successful open data policies and government efficiency. This is why I have started to emphasize the importance of “people interoperability” as much as data interoperability, including at the 2023 UN World Data Forum High Level panel “Building trust and ethics in data.”

Toward a culture of open data

Data to be published under an open data initiative comes from every ministry. In this way, an open data policy is fully horizontal. Data is being created every day in many different government offices and all that data must be part of the data policy and part of the open data publication discussion, subject to applicable legal limitations. Without institutional collaboration, even the best interoperability platform could fail to perform.

This is where the ”people interoperability” conversation comes in. Open data initiatives often entail a culture change which exceeds the complexity of the actual technical implementation. This is why data literacy programs should be part of an open data policy from the very beginning.

Civil society needs to be involved in the open data policy design from the get-go as well. All major data actors should likewise have a seat at the table from the national statistics offices, chief data officers, digital transformation teams, and thematic data leads. Governmental officials from different areas and levels of responsibility need to know what open data is, why an open data policy is needed, what their open data inventory looks like, and how these data are governed. This kind of alignment and coordination can help encourage first steps toward “people interoperability.”

Getting started

The first step is usually the hardest. It is not always easy to understand even the best quality governmental datasets.

One of the clearest examples we have come across for this was with the implementation of the Open Up Guide on Climate Change in Chile and Uruguay, where climate change data was excellent but challenging to interpret. Climate change data can be particularly complicated, and in these two countries, open data experts needed to work with the government’s open data focal points to help contextualise the data and identify opportunities for potential data use and reuse.

The international Open Data Charter’s six principles were created to be the horizon that governments should work toward. We now start every partnership by encouraging a collaborative mindset to adopt “people interoperability” to overcome duplication and enable cross-sectoral and interdepartmental alignment for open data initiatives.

“People interoperability” hand in hand with data interoperability will bring us closer to a world in which data is open and freely available, while the rights of people and communities are protected from data misuse. This will help governments better tackle the most pressing challenges of our time, creating more just societies and innovative economies.

If you would like to join our network of over 170 governments and civil society organizations by adopting the international Open Data Charter principles read more here or e-mail us at [email protected].

Previously posted at :