A “Hybrid” public sector data strategy gives governments time to develop an open data strategy while starting to enjoy its benefits immediately.

Innovation never happens in isolation. It is the result of the creation of an ecosystem of actors and institutions. The benefits of investment in these actors and institutions like academia, private sector, public sector R&D, etc., are well known. However, it has recently become clear that knowledge flows, feedback loops, and interactions between such actors result in innovation and tangible outputs like economic activity generation, product and service innovations, and related startup and SMB creation. One of the critical components of the knowledge flows that power innovation is open data. The more data that is open for companies and people to access, use and share, the more ecosystem actors can innovate to solve problems, gain insights, and create efficiencies that scale. Open data is the ability to share data, especially financial data, digitally and seamlessly using interoperable technology systems and platforms. This has profound implications. It means the government is no longer the sole owner of solving citizen and national problems. With national innovation powered by open data, all actors in the ecosystem can now chip in, accomplishing far more than a government could by itself, resulting in a more efficient government offering better services to satisfied citizens.

Public organizations around the world produce valuable open data. This data is produced at a cost from their budget, and having exclusive access to this data gives these organizations an edge they are unwilling to relinquish to private organizations and citizens. Such behavior is the number one block on the road to open data initiatives in many countries and is perfectly understandable. Additionally, security concerns and fear of data misuse also make governments wary of opening up public sector data. In some cases, individual public sector organizations or government departments may simply not be ready for the transparency and resultant accountability that comes with access to open data.

However, the economic benefits of sharing open data are now clearly demonstrated. Just the increased productivity and investment from sharing of financial data means billions of dollars are added to GDP annually. With the addition of disruptive technologies, these gains can go even further with greater applicability to more use cases and better insights. Governments can no longer afford to sit on silos of data. The occupational cost is too great. At the same time, expecting some governments, who have always hoarded data, to suddenly make primary data completely available, in a timely, accessible, machine-processable manner to anyone in nonproprietary format (these are all established open data principles) is also unrealistic.

Enter “Hybrid” open data

“Hybrid” open data is a middle way that gets governments comfortable with strategically opening up their data. The principle is the same as having regulatory sandboxes where more adventurism is allowed within defined parameters under regulator governance.

The road to open data passes through three phases: Data availability, data accessibility, and government enablement and support to re-use data. Data availability usually happens after digitization of critical data sets has been completed across a government as part of government’s own digitization efforts. The next step is enabling access to that data. Clean data is available in a central location in a processable manner and made available to actors in the ecosystem. Government support to re-use data happens when governments reinvent themselves to become facilitators of solutions by actively enabling and fostering engagement. This means owning external initiatives like hackathons, sectoral advisory boards, strategic outreach, and internal initiatives like cross-functional civil servant teams that operate like lean startups solving for specific use cases, etc.

With the “hybrid” open data approach, governments focus on data access, availability, and data re-use initiatives on other public sector bodies and qualified private sector partners, as opposed to “everyone,” which globally accepted open data principles demand. Done strategically and smartly allows governments to start reaping the benefits of open data innovation while addressing their concerns on ubiquitously open data. Open data is delivered via APIs but only to qualified government partners strategically chosen for their competencies and not the general public. The key here is that the partners are chosen after the government lists down key initiatives that increase GDP growth, generate jobs, and shave off government costs while increasing citizen satisfaction. Once the initiatives are finalized, relevant partners are chosen who can best action the initiatives on the list.

Benefits of “hybrid” open data

With open data open to other public sector bodies, cross-functional and inter-agency collaboration results in better citizen services. Governance for workflows that cut across ministries and departments improves, and intended benefits are more fully realized while innovative solutions are arrived at, which are more efficient yet cheaper. Better decision-making is enabled for high-level government stakeholders because there is a lot more context.

Strategic partners who are onboarded for their competencies against key strategic initiatives use open data to create productivity and economic activity at scale. For example, lending to SMB’s without asking for collateral because of credit scoring using AI algorithms can transform a nation and allow the government to lend directly via partners. Innovative solutions that mitigate risk and lower customer acquisition costs can help banks give cashflow loans helping businesses and startups grow, and even help freelancers evolve to become knowledge management businesses. Use cases like these selected for maximum impact, open to select partners to add value, create better public services, generate efficiencies, and reduce wastage and risk.

Fully Open data remains the end goal

Fully open data must always be the ultimate goal. Once government data is standardized, and policies are in place that clearly define data sharing, private actors like businesses and startups can unleash innovation at every stage. This will create a self-sustaining flywheel powered by national innovation. Innovative uses of data on existing use cases generate value and even more data. This results in new and intriguing use cases that attract more actors seeking to unlock even more value.

The experience of “hybrid” open data allows the government to get comfortable with the concept of sharing data and convinces all stakeholders of the benefits because of demonstrated efficiencies and improvement of key economic indicators. They can then set up a timetable to move to fully open data in Phase 2, where open data extends to all businesses and citizens. Moving from closed data to “hybrid” data to open data enables for the greater ultimate success of open data initiatives, especially in emerging markets where wariness to open government data, especially financial data, is pervasive.