I really enjoyed yesterday’s opening doors event – a one day seminar on open data and charities. Now, I may (and occasionally am) seen as being a bit of a geek when it comes to open data (though I promise you, I am absolutely not….as soon as things get technical I’m quickly left behind!) and I have been talking about open data for some time. But what was so great about yesterday’s event was that for once the conversation about open data wasn’t just, as Karl Wilding called it ‘a minority sport played by geeks’. It was a conversation held in daylight, out in the open, among people who could not be called the usual suspects.
It was great to see so many people from not for profit organisations wanting to engage in discussions about how open data can be used by charities and community organisations. The event was doubly oversubscribed – and I hope that another event will be held to enable all those who weren’t able to attend to have a chance to hear from the inspiring organisations that are leading the way. It’s clear that despite some notable exceptions, many charities are just starting to explore the crucial questions of what, why and how they use open data. We have a long way to go, but we have to start somewhere!
To date discussions about open data have tended to be the preserve of techies and social geographers – many of them in the public sector, though even they are in a minority. We cannot afford to leave open data to the data specialists – or what we’ll get will be designed in their eyes. Whilst that’s not a problem in itself, it is unlikely to meet our needs.
Whilst it was extremely encouraging to see so many charity people wanting to come and talk about open data, it was also slightly disappointing that there were relatively few chief executives among them. There were plenty of monitoring and evaluation people and some tech people working within charities but, on though there were some, chief executives in attendance were fairly thin on the ground. Like social media, open data needs organisational leadership. Without that it’s unlikely to become mainstreamed within organisations and become part of the organisational culture. Although leadership can come from anywhere, it is rarely likely to gain traction without the blessing (or actively involvement) of senior managers. We still need to do more to engage those who run charities to actively engage with and champion open data.
We have a long way to go within the not for profit sector to take advantage of the benefits of open data….but with Opening Doors we started the journey of a thousand miles, with a step in the right direction.