Why we need sector-specific open data standards

In advance of the International Open Data Conference (IODC) 2016 in Madrid, Spain, CoST highlights the need for a greater focus on sector-specific application of open data. 

The international Open Data Charter provided a breakthrough moment for aligning data standards, as highlighted in a previous IODC blogpost. Specifically, Principle 4 includes a commitment to “engage with domestic and international standards bodies and other standard setting initiatives to encourage increased interoperability between existing international standards”. As an initiative that seeks to increase transparency in public infrastructure through our own open data standard, CoST wholeheartedly welcomes this support for effective coordination. However, we believe there needs to be greater acknowledgement in the open data community of the value gained by having sector-specific initiatives that extend and compliment sector-wide initiatives. And here’s why.

Sector-specific open data standards increase applicability, turning open data into usable data
The CoST Infrastructure Data Standard (IDS) is designed to put data into a format that is accessible, understandable and applicable for both policy-makers and the public. For example, the IDS not only requires numerical data such as cost and time increases to be published but also the summary reasons for these changes. At national level, CoST programmes take the IDS forward to meet needs on the ground, achieving a credible and substantial level of compliance. For example given concerns regarding health and safety, CoST Tanzania piloted disclosure of accidents and fatal injuries on construction sites. In one road project, disclosed data showed that the works had led to three deaths and eight accidents on site. Their findings were widely publicised in order to support stakeholders in demanding greater protective measures for workers on construction sites.

Sector-specific open data standards can respond to sectoral challenges
Incorporating a ‘one size fits all’ approach can limit the power of open data in responding to sectoral challenges. Public infrastructure investment is often characterised by opaque decision making by public officials and delivered via a long supply chain that is governed by informal rules and practices. CoST has tackled this challenge by asking for data to be disclosed at each stage of the project cycle (from inception to completion), in addition to data from the principle contracts (typically design, construction and supervision).

A key item of project data is ‘land and settlement’ impact which, if not managed correctly, can have a negative impact on citizens and the broader investment environment. For example, in one project CoST Honduras identified that significant time and cost overruns were due to a lack of a feasibility study and associated resettlement plan. Having started construction, the project was subsequently stalled for 15 months in order to resettle local communities. CoST Honduras is now working with stakeholders to increase disclosure of data points in the preparation phase, including ‘land and settlement impact’, to ensure public infrastructure delivery creates minimal disturbance to local communities.

Findings from sector-specific open data standards can enhance and be joined up to sector wide standards
Whilst we can learn much from sector-wide open data standards, the application of sector-specific open data standards can also provide insights on what works (and what does not work) on the ground. It is for this reason that CoST has signed an engagement agreement with the Open Contracting Partnership (OCP), which includes the development of an infrastructure extension to the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS). CoST will share its sector specific knowledge of infrastructure whilst our colleagues at OCP will bring their knowhow of open data to the collaboration.

We are also believe that the IDS has potential to join up with other data sets, especially regarding beneficial ownership. For example, it can strengthen transparency in cases involving land for infrastructure development.
The Open Data Charter is a breakthrough moment for aligning data standards. However, in order to turn potential into impact, we need to be specific. It is for this reason that we are excited to join discussions in the IODC session ‘International Open Data Charter: creating sector packages to move from principle to impact’, which will feature an update on the Charter's pilot sector package in agriculture. CoST commends this practical approach to strengthening open data standards and hopes that construction, frequently reported as the sector most susceptible to corruption, will be considered as the Charter’s packages develop.
Date Published: 5 October 2016
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