How can we achieve data-driven government?

Blog by Benjamin Welby, Policy Analyst, Digital Government Unit, Public Governance Directorate, OECD.

When we developed the OECD Recommendation on Digital Government Strategies in 2014 it emphasised the role of data. Since then we’ve worked with numerous countries to put that Recommendation into practice and explore the use of data, both as Open Government Data and within government itself.

That exploration remains a priority across the world but it’s a challenging journey.

Challenging in its governance

How can countries create effective approaches to their data that are sustainable? What are the talents governments need? What needs to happen in terms of regulation or legislation to make it as easy as possible to share data within, between, and outside organisations? What is the right data architecture and infrastructure to facilitate that? All hard questions in their own right but that only gets as far as developing the foundations for data in government.

Challenging in its application

We are a long way from being in the age of data-driven government. There’s a sizeable gap between the vision for using data and the practical realities of delivering on it. Which is all the more frustrating given how much we can all see the scope to deliver on that promise and unlock value for our societies.

Yes, there are many examples of the benefits of data (the Open Government Data Report is a great resource that highlights many of them). On a personal level, as I stepped off a plane, pulled out my phone and expected Citymapper to guide me to my destination I was instead left fumbling to remember how to navigate a city without it because Dublin must be one of an ever dwindling number of cities without Citymapper. That brought home just how much the use of Open Government Data to drive innovation around public services has become an assumed part of my daily life.

And yet for government itself there is so much unfulfilled potential. Every day governments could be using data to look ahead in planning policies fit for the future, to make sure services are as proactive and intelligent as possible, and to evaluate and monitor the ongoing impact of those services and policies.

Challenging in its trust by the public

But that is all for nothing if it lacks legitimacy in the eyes of the public. And it is in our own personal lives that government’s use of data raises another set of issues. The use of data, often hidden and opaque, generates uncertainty and nervousness, especially in a climate of decreasing trust in government. We want government to work for us in delivering seamless services that don’t keep asking us for the same information that we know we’ve already shared but we also don’t want a Big Brother surveillance state with unfettered access to it. And that’s before we get onto automated decision making and other applications of Artificial Intelligence.

This stuff is not easy.

It’s into that context the Digital Government and Open Government Data team is contributing a couple of new publications. We hope that not only are they conceptually interesting but that they’re practically useful for transforming the internal conversations governments are having about data so that we can start to enjoy its value in our day to day lives and see it building, rather than threatening our trust.

Open, Useful and Re-usable data (OURdata) Index

A couple of weeks ago the OECD published the 2019 edition of the Government at a Glance report. It provides reliable, internationally comparative data on government activities and their results in OECD countries. Part of that report is the 2019 edition of the OURdata Index which measures the availability, accessibility and the supports of government to re-use Open Government Data (OGD).


And it tells a positive story.

This year we’ve seen an overall improvement in the maturity of the agenda throughout the OECD. Most countries have either improved or sustained their performance since 2017. There have been major improvements in countries like Ireland that have launched Open Data and Public Service Data strategies. Countries, including Poland, Latvia, the Czech Republic and Greece are catching up due to strong domestic political leadership and support from the EU. Nevertheless, some “top performers” have dropped after changing political cycles saw a reduction in support for the OGD agenda which highlights the importance of sustainable data leadership.

The path to becoming a data-driven public sector

The second resource, The Path to Becoming a Data-Driven Public Sector, is a practical guide for public sector organisations to use individually, and governments corporately, to assess and then respond to the wide-ranging questions posed by the ambition of putting data at the heart of how governments respond to the needs of their societies.

It sets out a framework that we hope will prove valuable in helping governments develop strategic, tactical and operational approaches that solve some of the most intractable challenges we’ve seen throughout the world, help unlock public value and build, rather than threaten, trust in the legitimacy of government. Its draws on the experience of OECD countries to show the importance of:

  • Implementing data governance models that offer strategic leadership, are clear about responsibility and invest in build public sector capacity while addressing existing regulatory frameworks, setting standards and removing barriers to managing, sharing and re-using data.

Applying data for public value in the planning, delivery and monitoring of public policies and services

Understanding the data rights of citizens in terms of enshrining ethical behaviours, building tools that give citizens visibility and influence over the use of their data and protecting privacy and security

The report also includes a couple of case studies showing how the DDPS approach can be applied in practice to the areas of Public Sector Integrity and Human Resource Management. We hope to see more of these emerge and if you take this model and apply it in your context we’d love to hear what works, and what’s missing.

If unlocking the value of your data is something you’d like to see in your country or organisation then we’d love to hear from you.

You can see what that work would look like in our Digital Government and Open Data Reviews of:

Open Government Data Review of Poland: Unlocking the value of government data (2015)

Open Government Data Review of Mexico: Data reuse for public sector impact and innovation (2016)

Open Government Data in Mexico: The way forward (2018)

Digital Government Review of Norway: Boosting the digital transformation of the public sector (2017)

Digital Government Review of Sweden: Towards a data-driven public sector (2019)

Digital Government Review of Argentina: Accelerating the digitalisation of the public sector (2019)

Digital Government Review of Panama: Enhancing the digital transformation of the public sector (2019)

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