Open Data and Public Participation: Lessons from the Smart Citizenship Academy

by Participation Factory

What is the role of Open Data in Public Participation?

Open Data is one of the hot topics nowadays that interest governments of different levels. However, there is still a lack of systematic approach and understanding about how it is connected to public participation. That issue was a focal point of one of the workshops at the Smart Citizenship Academy in Cascais, Portugal.

According to Lorena Rivero del Paso from the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT) open data is a great enabler of public participation at any stage of participation:

  1.     Informing citizens;
  2.     Consulting them;
  3.     Involving them;
  4.     Co-designing together with them;
  5.     Empowering them to run the decision-making.

Open Data indeed when presented in an understandable way and made accessible to the broad public increases trust in the process and the institutions as well as help participants of any process to take more informed and thus better actions. It is wrong to expect people to participate in the process if they do not know why it takes place, what’s the objectives are, and why it is important. It’s equally wrong to expect people to make informed decisions if they are not given access to the data that would help them to better understand the issue and how it affects their life and the wellbeing of their community.

However, Open Data should not be understood only as an enabler of participatory processes but also as an output of any public participation. Each public participation process generates invaluable data on the needs and preferences of specific demographic groups and provides data that can and should be reused in other processes.

For example, a Participatory Budgeting process generates data that shows what are the active parts of the community, what kind of media they prefer to use, what their needs are and which solutions they would favor. It is easy to only use the final data – the results of the voting – and to overlook the rest. However, a more effective way for the city to use data output would be to make this data open for any citizen association, civil society, or governmental institution to use. For example, the data about who participated and how can be used in order for local associations to create a better engagement plan based on the profile of already activated citizens. At the same time, projects that did not get through the stage of technical review or did not win in the voting should also be available to the public and institutions as they can be taken up as an agenda of a local NGO or a local governmental group that focuses on these specific issues.

 “If the government has a monopoly on good ideas it means that public participation does not really work in that government,” stated Lorena Rivero del Paso, and that is true. Government should not be the only local body to generate ideas or to own ones generated by others. Good government understands the value of public participation and open data and can effectively leverage both in order to more effectively involve its community in local decision and policy making processes.

Do you want to create a participatory system in which open data is both an effective enabler of public participation and the value it produces? Do not hesitate to contact us for any further questions.

Your Participation Factory team.