Open Data—machine readable information, particularly government data sets, if they become transparent, have the potential to empower citizens, change how governments work and improve service delivery according to the 2020 Network Readiness Index and a 2021 McKinsey report on government management of data in the digital age. The Open-Data opportunity can also generate significant economic value in blended public-private use-cases when analytics are applied to both open and proprietary knowledge. Data from government repositories when blended with branded data sets can propel innovation and replace instinctive decision making.

To unlock the burgeoning trillion dollar Open-Data opportunity for the private sector and civil society, governments must become blended-data providers—both in the form of unstructured data and official statistics. However, many datasets stored in Open-Data portals remain information silos. To build out more comprehensive and insightful datasets with appropriate protections, governments must create interoperable and connected registers knowing that some of the risks include reputational calamities, citizen backlash, and the inadvertent ooze of benchmarked records and figures.

Open data analytics can uncover consumer preferences that allow manufacturers to improve designs and formulae. Open data can also help companies to segment markets, uncover anomalies and prevent uncalled-for variations in product designs. Open data can even spawn novel lines of commerce for time-honoured establishments and challenger enterprises.  The opportunities of Open Data turn on crafting soft laws and designating legal and regulatory frameworks that protect privacy, intellectual property and standards to accelerate data flows that are both open and ‘liquid’.

To the multitudes, interoperable and connected government data raises the spectre of surveillance and the abuse of power particularly in respect of civil liberties. Additionally, the current management of government data also poses challenges in terms of data privacy. To be self-reinforcing, the benefits of open data need private industry and public agencies to cultivate open data ecosystems that protect the rights of citizens. To unlock their data potential, governments must develop ‘interoperable and connected data landscapes’, in which data gathered across state agencies are available anywhere and anytime with security and privacy safeguards, and where adequate legal measures prevent misuse. In many instances, citizens find it impossible to access their personal data or know where these data are stored and when and why they are accessed.

A modern data landscape, by contrast, enables privacy by design. Structured and secure data exchanges reduce the number of people in contact with data and the risk of seepages. Citizens can benefit from greater transparency and active management of consent. Increasingly smart governments unmask what data are saved, and where, and provide a log of all digital interactions. That enables the citizen to opt in or out of use cases. Estonia’s data tracker, allows citizens to review data queries relating to their personal information, including the reason for access.

To reduce the abuse of government funds in Agriculture, the Estonian government combines information from agriculture registers with satellite images to analyse whether land subsidized by government grants is being used for food production. Interoperable and connected government data can help mitigate loss risk by decreasing errors from manual inputs and inconsistent data across registers and by enabling the state to leverage analytics tools.

The government of Denmark uses geodata to simulate flooding scenarios. The result is better crisis management and improved long-term-investment decisions using data. To build the complex models required, data from multiple key registers are layered with 3-D topographic data. In Germany, fully interoperable and connected government data produce a sixty per cent reduction in case-processing time for key public services. For the national census, digitally advanced countries, like the Netherlands, pull data entirely from existing databases. This approach incurs up to 99 per cent less costs than traditional methods. In many government offices, data is compiled manually. Interoperable and connected data allows governments to streamline this ‘back end’ by reducing friction and cutting clearing times.

Debates proliferate about artificial intelligence (AI) and its potential impact on jobs. Similarly, mushrooming controversies around 5G have shown how geo-politics, technology, and environmental concerns can mix in unexpected ways. The result is that digital transformation is now seen as a critical concern by: governments (central and local), corporations (large and small), and individuals. The moment of truth is when there is no conciliator to decide what is fake or fact. Open Data is a pathway through this conceptual chasm.

Our ability to imagine into being a world in which technology and innovation are better governed is central to making the future better than what preceded it. It is in this context that the Aymara of the Andes see tomorrow (q”ipüru) as ‘some day behind one’s back’, according to Rafael Nunez at the University of California. The Conquistadores saw themselves as a reference point. Time moved towards them. So ‘forward’ denotes the future. But the Inca have a temporal frame of reference that excludes the ego. They see the landscape as a conveyor belt of time and on that conveyor belt, later events come behind earlier ones. And so the past is not just prologue; but the future lies behind. This perspective makes the pandemic portal more a promise than a threat.