5. Start with a plan
Now you know what open data is all about, you should be starting to ask how can your organisation get involved? To get the most out of any open data initiative, organisations must seek to embed the practice within its existing processes. The simplest way to begin establishing open data in your organisation is to design a plan.
This section provides practical guidance about how to create a successful open data plan in 4 steps. The order of steps is a guide and you could choose to do many of them simultaneously.
Step 1: Have a goal
Before launching your open data project, you should be clear about what you want to achieve. Your organisation will have its own strategic aims and goals, open data is another tool to support these. Does your organisation have a particular problem which open data could help solve or a target which open data could help achieve?
You will need to develop a publication plan which will require you to prioritise your data release, you should be think carefully about publishing data for the sake of it. You may find it difficult to demonstrate value and get support. Having a clear goal for your open data and showing how opening data can help with organisational issues will encourage senior management support and can be the catalyst for establishing a longer term open data initiative.
Step 2: Assess your open data publishing and use
A useful tool to identify how your organisation currently uses and publishes data is the ODI Pathways self-assessment questionnaire. The questionnaire will help identify how engaged your organisation currently is with open data and will provide practical recommendations to improve your score.
The tool could be used to help shape your open data goal as it helps identify gaps in your processes and areas for improvement.
Step 3: Get support
Feedback from colleagues across the public sector, has shown that for open data to be successful in the long term it requires support from across the organisation at all levels. Start with a small group of supporters who can then help you get support from others. Every organisation has a different structure and culture but generally you will want:
- Senior management - Having senior management support ensures your work is given weight. Senior management should be willing to help drive the project forward and help resolve disputes if they arise.
- Open data champions - These are people throughout the organisation who are interested in making the open data project a success. Open data champions will be the point of contact for questions and will help keep the wider organisation updated on progress of work.
- IT and GIS specialist - It would be wrong to make your open data project an IT only initiative, it requires support from all areas of the business. However, as open data will likely require working with new technologies and formats, their support will be essential.
- FOI and/ or publication scheme contacts - Colleagues in this area will have vital experience around dealing with requests, signposting people to information and an understanding of the FOISA/ EIRs exemptions and exceptions.
Tips for getting support
- Be specific - explain how open data will help them specifically e.g. proactively releasing data may reduce FOI requests saving time and resources
- Use case studies - case studies help you show people why open data is worthwhile. Use the case studies in this resource pack to help persuade your stakeholders
- Address fears - be clear about the purpose of your project and address any concerns your stakeholders may have.
Step 4: Demonstrate value
Embedding open data within your organisation is an iterative process. You should continually evaluate your plan as your open data work progresses. Does your goal need to change because your plans have moved on? Are your aims still realistic and achievable?
You should also be looking to capture evidence which will show stakeholders how open data is bringing value to your organisation. A good way to demonstrate value would be to show how your project is helping support the initial goal. Demonstrating the success of the project can help persuade others to get on board and help embed open data into your organisations business practices. Other examples which may help demonstrate value:
- decrease in freedom of information/general requests
- efficiency savings e.g. decrease in processing times, financial savings
- greater public engagement with your organisations
- economic benefits e.g. development of apps and innovations using your data
EdinburghApps began as an annual once a year competition with the Council providing challenges and teams taking part over 6/7 weeks to develop strong concepts or/and prototypes which are then judged in a final event. EdinburghApps supports Edinburgh's open data strategy, challenges must all be supported by the sharing and release of data sets. The winners then have the opportunity to work with the Council to develop their ideas, and deliver products.
In two cases the Council helped winners to start their business from scratch, and also supporting participants to find other business opportunities.
Read the case study to find out more about the benefits to participants and the City of Edinburgh Council.