Four lessons from Banda Aceh’s open data experiment

A guide to starting an open data practice.

Jakarta’s Open Data Lab headed east to Banda Aceh to help city officials build an open data practice from scratch. The Lab worked with citizens to identify datasets they need, and helped officials build trust to release these datasets. Here’s how they did it and what they learnt. 1. Understand citizens’ needs The team first brought together journalists, NGOs and researchers to understand what data they needed to help improve public services. The groups wanted to know more about how the city’s schools performed, and ranked the most useful education datasets. Aceh open data table “Prioritising these datasets mean that citizens are far more likely to engage with the data to drive change,” the Lab said. Before this experiment, few of the citizens knew of their right to request for government information. The city received 40 Freedom of Information requests in 2014, while Aceh provincial government received 22 requests. 2. Help city officials publish data At the same time, the Lab worked with officials to proactively publish data, instead of waiting for citizens’ requests. “When we began work there were no datasets available as true open data [in machine-readable formats], nor was there a policy or roadmap for opening up government data,” the Lab said. Officials lacked the skills to convert data to re-useable formats and worried about losing control over who was using the data and for what purpose. The Lab helped build an open data portal and trained officials to make data machine-readable. They also brought in officials from the Jakarta government, which is more advanced in open data, to share their insights. Banda Aceh’s education agency published 16 datasets online from the citizens’ priority list. This drew interest from other city agencies, with the transportation and communications agencies releasing eight datasets as a test. 3. Train citizens to use open data The Open Data Lab then trained reporters, researchers and NGO workers to analyse the newly released data and visualise it as useful information for citizens and officials. Workshop participants analysing the newly opened education data. 4. Citizens share findings with government Finally, the Lab held a meeting for the citizens to present their findings to education officials. They found that some better funded schools were not performing as well. And some schools were not using funds intended for infrastructure to improve students’ learning. Officials are now working to find out what went wrong in these schools, providing updates to citizens about their progress. The Open Data Lab published the results of its experiments in this report. Images by Open Data Lab Jakarta.