To mark the 6th Convergences 2015 World Forum, an interview with Romain Lacombe, head of innovation and development, Etalab mission1.
Etalab leads the policy to publish public data online (Open Data). The aim of the mission is to coordinate the work of all the ministries, public institutions and agencies in order to make available the information and data that they collect or produce. Romain Lacombe presents the issues involved in open data and its potential for development assistance.
Making data available to all is first and foremost a question of transparency and democracy.
For the State, sharing this data is also a way of modernizing itself: information circulates more effectively between services and data can be used by third parties (social entrepreneurs, associations), which subsequently invent new types of public service.
Open data comprises a very strong notion of innovation that also applies to the private sector. It allows start-ups or companies to improve their services to consumers and to create employment and activities.
“Open data provides a tremendous opportunity for development assistance.”
The international development assistance system is by essence multipolar and fragmented. Sharing data on all the projects that the various actors work on makes it possible for them to coordinate among themselves. This avoids spending funds inefficiently and repeating an action that is already being implemented at local level. It is also apparent that certain areas in the world are not covered. Pooling data provides a clearer vision of development assistance policies around the world and allows them to be led more effectively.
Information and data are core to the process of understanding development issues. In order to support the economic development of a country, it is necessary to have an in-depth understanding of the mechanisms that set back development at local level. They can vary enormously from one area to the other. The experimental approach, developed in particular by Esther Duflo, is extremely effective for gaining an understanding of these mechanisms and is based on the fact of having information.
“Data culture” and data sharing can give local innovators incentives to address the issues they are facing themselves. In the words of William Easterly, we will never know as much as people working in the field about what type of problems there are and their reality. Open data can provide tools as a solution to these problems. By providing local innovators with access to this digital, virtual and informational infrastructure, we create all the conditions that will allow everyone to develop projects and tailor them to conditions in the field.
Open data meets citizens’ need for transparency, which is very strong and clear today. This means that public policies need to develop. The G8 charter on open public data commits all countries to developing open data and working with innovators around the world.
Finally, open data provides an excellent way of ensuring the commitments that are made are both respected and effective.
1: Etalab is attached to the General Secretariat for the Modernization of Public Action, created by a Decree of the French Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, on 31 October 2012.