Do I need to engage with anyone?

Absolutely. If anything, only this.

One of the main reasons for certain commercial apps like Facebook, Twitter or Uber gaining the scale of use and impact that they have is because they achieved near perfect product-market fit at a very early stage.

This means they created a product that matched what enough users wanted so closely, and so universally, that it got widespread adoption. This adoption helped them prove the products usefulness to those that they needed support from to scale the product (in their case, funders and other customers).

This is not a place to sing the praises of commercial tech startups, and, if anything, at least Facebook and Uber's recent problems are a warning sign for tech's ability to scale at a pace that leaves responsibility and accountability behind.

However, these and many other examples show that making sure your solution solves a user's problem well is central to getting it used.

In the Human Factors International (HFI) video, The ROI of User Experience, Site exit disclaimer Dr. Susan Weinschenk notes that of those IT investments, up to 15% of IT projects are abandoned and at least 50% of a programmers’ time during the project is spent doing rework that is avoidable. [Source: https://www.usability.gov/what-and-why/benefits-of-ucd.html]

Making sure that our efforts within local government provide services that are well received and used widely by citizens is the way we can achieve impact and build responsive cities with active and empowered citizens.

As a result, it is best to follow a user-centred approach to engage with citizens, community groups, businesses, civil society, and other users when starting open data initiatives.

How do we understand user's needs?

Usability.gov has a number of resources on conducting user-centred techniques to understand how to focus open data initiatives on what users need. The process is broadly as follows:

  1. Plan what you are looking to achieve from the engagement

  2. Identify the users and organise the right context in which to engage them

  3. Run the engagement

  4. Review, improve and repeat

What sort of engagement is needed?

This is largely dependent on the context of the users. The first requirement is to find out what data is required and how it is needed to be accessed. This could be asking the attendants of municipal IDP or budget workshop about what data they need to access. It could be though an online or offline survey process. Try to utilise the existing communication touch points the city already has with citizens and other groups, rather than creating duplication.

It is likely that engagement with users around their open data needs will require more than one interaction and need to be iterative. Once the data need is understood and the project formed, there are a few useful formats of engagements that can help extract what we need:

  • An unconference or similar gathering is useful in understanding the baseline problems, challenges and opportunities that a certain community or group of users face, which an open data initiative may help to address

  • A dataquest is useful to understand what users find interesting or useful in a certain dataset or group of datasets

  • A hackathon is useful in understanding what potential uses a dataset may have

There is a short description of each in the following pages. There is also a super guide on how to activate a local data community on the Open Data South Africa Toolkit:

Ultimately, any open data initiative needs to start with a user's problem and end when that problem is solved for the user.

Not when data has been opened,

nor when tech has been built.

Sign-off should happen when change has occurred for that user as a result of data being opened, and their use of it to drive that change.