What it takes to create and nurture an open data ecosystem

No one said it was going to be easy. And no one said, “Please! Come! Introduce us to something we know nothing about and don’t have the capacity to pursue but know that everyone else is doing, so we want to, too…now!”

But also? No one with authority or money said, “Here! Take our money! Take our people! Take our dilapidated, archaic, time-consuming inefficient processes, toss them out and replace them with stuff we don’t know how to use, analyze or implement!”

If starting and maintaining a robust open data ecosystem was easy, it would have been done here by now. Also, if it was easy to do, chances are we wouldn’t be the ones looking to do it. Going after “easy” isn’t really in our DNA.

Ironically, at about the same time we started OpenNEO, Nigel Jacob, Urban Technologist in Residence at Living Cities, wrote and published this clear, specific breakdown of, “Four Key Challenges Facing Local Government Innovators.” Open data is innovation and these four challenges absolutely attain here in NE Ohio:

1. Balancing incremental improvement and “disruptive” or “transformative” approaches to innovation

Jacob writes, “Incremental innovation is important to help cities improve the things they’re already doing…But cities struggle with how to organize, staff, resource and support these [innovation and core government duty] activities so they can happen in tandem.”

2. Putting city residents at the center in a bureaucratic environment

Trying to better meet residents’ needs and improve their experience of local government can be very hard, especially in a bureaucracy.

3. Nurturing innovation in city departments

Innovation might be happening, but very possibly in isolation and not vertically or horizontally. Think interoperability and no blind spots or lack of communication (right hand and left hand not talking to each other).

4. Developing and structuring innovation partnerships

Identifying and defining the roles of partners, then how to staff and resource the partnerships require planning and attention and can’t be left to ad hoc attraction.

Of course, when we face barriers, we think, “How do we get around or over them? Or, you know, obliterate them?” We don’t think, “Whoops, time to do something else.”

This means we dig in and expound on the well-accepted benefits of open data, which are getting seriously documented. It means we study guidebooks on embedding innnovation and fully vetted, expert-authored handbooks on creating and growing open data ecosystems. And it means we study the business models of up and running open data ecosystems from which we can learn and evangelize about the logic of investment in civic tech.

It also means that anyone else and any other organization, of any type, interested in obliterating, circumventing or leaping over these barriers would make a great ally! (Hint hint)

Come on. Who doesn’t love a challenge? We’re Cleveland after all.

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