Do I need an open data policy?

In short, not immediately.

As seen throughout this toolkit, South African municipalities already make a lot of data available though a variety of channels within their current policy environment. Both the pages on online and offline methods for opening data share some of these channels.

The most important first step in opening data is finding a community / users that need access to data, and working with them to open it.

As mentioned at the start of this section, the best way to build a sustainable open data initiative within the municipality is to find demand for data and to start small. Building a series of smaller projects and opening data through this will provide a number of benefits:

  1. It will provide learning to the city for how to open data in a low risk and iterative way, and these lessons can then be scaled later,

  2. It will build up a number of demand use cases, which will prove highly useful for convincing others within the city to spend city budget and resources on opening data

  3. it will provide hands-on research for what is required within an open data policy when the time comes to form one.

There are a few risks with starting an open data initiative within a city with a policy process:

  1. Policies take time to form (for good reason). But, when a policy process starts, it often means that any processes that relate to it get put on hold until that policy is finalised. So, if you are keen to start showing impact cases from opening data, it can be counter-productive to start a policy process, which will then in all likelihood, mean that no data can be opened until the policy is in place, which, in a municipal context, could take years.

  2. In reality, policy formation is tricky and often involves balancing political and other interests within the city. If there is not yet a good appreciation and understanding of what open data can do for this city, there is a chance the policy process could be hijacked by those with other priorities and interests, and even become a barrier to opening data. This may be the case if the procedure for opening data as dictated by the policy is too cumbersome or infrequent, as an example.

When you do get to the point you need a policy, there is a guide to open data policy creation in the next section.