How does open data work in reality at a city level? There are a number of formats open data projects typically take, including:
Citizen reporting/Citizen monitoring
Opening access to information and data for citizens
Tracking public spending and infrastructure projects
Data Analytics for Government
Trust, transparency, decentralisation projects
Policy analysis and creation
We've attempted to summarise these into a table below, and also have expanded on each type in their own sections (click on the title, or just follow the toolkit).
Type of tool
Citizen reporting or citizen monitoring tools make it easy for citizens to report on issues affecting them in their communities.
Responsiveness from government to be able to respond to issues and update citizens timely.
Open information for citizens specifically can be in the form of open budgets, open bylaws, open data sets, or information on how the city is performing, but also opening processes, decisions, and lines of communication.
Going beyond just opening information and processes, but making sure information is accessible through a user friendly process. Opening up decisions without the right mechanisms for processing citizen input is ineffective.
There are many tools that exist to track some form of government delivery. Most often, this ends up being tracking of infrastructure projects against what government has proposed in budgets, how budgets are being spent, and how or if promises are being realised. Infrastructure projects are often capital intensive, might be involve a tendering process, and are targets for corruption in the form of kickbacks, quality issues, or never taking off at all. It is in citizens interest to be able to track the progress of these projects, and report on projects that aren’t going as planned to hold government and businesses accountable to doing what they claimed they are going to do. There are a number of different ways to go about doing this, and not one solution is the only solution.
Similar to opening information, the risks associated opening up the infrastructure project process are linked with making sure there is a way to respond to what gets reported, and act on it. If citizens are able to report on projects that haven’t taken off, then government also needs to be able to respond to these updates.
More and more, governments and cities are realising the benefit of using information, data, and technology to make planning and development decisions, be more efficient and effective with urban management, and keep up to date on service delivery. Not only can information and technology make cities more efficient and cost effective, it can also connect citizens to government in a way that makes it easier for government to hear and respond to citizens voice.
While being able to use data analytics in planning is valuable and becoming more of a trend in cities, it also requires an ideological and financial investment and buy-in into the use of technology and data analytics for planning.
Traditionally, decisions, transactions, and processes are all centralised in government or within a certain department or entity, and are open to human error, including corruption. To overcome this, blockchain technology has been introduced as a way ensure a new level of trust by decentralising these decisions, transactions and processes, and to some extent, takes the human element out of some of these processes.
There is a lot of hype around blockchain with little evidence of its effectiveness or truly understanding what is it, and whether it has applicability to governance structures. There is a risk of adopting this without understanding if it really is the best option, or serving some sort of purpose.
Participatory planning aims to ground planning decisions and the planning process in community needs and providing multi-faceted opportunities for participation. Participatory planning tools open the planning process beyond traditional means (e.g. town hall meetings, visioning workshops) by making it easier for government to capture the voice and input of more citizens, and providing more access to government for a larger number of citizens to voice their needs as it relates to community interventions and planning decisions.
One of the major risks for participatory planning and providing citizens opportunities to engage with planning decisions is ensuring the right mechanisms are in place to be able to truly incorporate the feedback received, regardless if it is in line with political agendas or internal visions for a city. It can also be difficult to hold private sector to the same participatory process principles, especially as it relates to urban revitalisation projects that often end up having planning implications.
Similar to evidenced based planning and participatory planning, policy analysis and creation tools open up the policy process by making it more transparent and accessible to citizens, professionals, researchers and others outside of the government and decision making sphere.
While policy creation and analysis tools are valuable and can provide in-depth insight into the performance of a policy or intervention, their existence does not automatically assume they will be or are being used. As with any tool that is created, it is important to spend time beforehand understanding who the users are and what their needs are so that one does not create a tool that ends up being unused, irrelevant or, worst case scenario, having a negative impact on citizens or democracy.
*These are only a few examples and not an exhaustive list of all possible tools under each category