Open Data Conference Examines Governance in Digital Era

Richard Stirling
Richard Stirling
September 16, 2013

Highlighting a day-long conference featuring leading experts of the open-data movement, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom delivered the mid-day keynote address, challenging the audience to consider, “How does technology radically differ the capacity for individuals to lead?” The conference, "Can Open Data Improve Democratic Governance?", was held September 12 in Sutardja Dai Hall, and included experts on open data, technology, and government from the US, UK, Canada, and France, as well as Latin America and Africa. The audience of 170 included leaders from the open data movement, advocates, local and government officials, nonprofit executives, and Berkeley faculty and students.

Newsom, former mayor of San Francisco, is the author of “Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government,” which encourages citizen participation through greater transparency and by generating more effective, crowd-sourced solutions to public problems. In his speech of the same name, Newsom spoke about the crucial nature of what he labels “active citizen engagement;” ongoing participation in government. “It’s about more choices; it’s about more voices.”

Having previously co-founded 11 businesses, Newsom highlighted the importance of bringing private sector style innovation to government. “The whole new thinking is platform thinking,” he said on Thursday’s speech, “all that industrial thinking is just not relevant.”

The conference’s 27 speakers and panelists included representatives from software firms, nonprofit and public interest organizations, academia, and all levels of government.

Diego May, co-founder and CEO of Junar, an open data company that has developed a cloud-based platform for collecting and publishing data, discussed ways to make data access available to every city in the world from California to Costa Rica. 

Tom Spengler of Granicus asserted that, with open data, “we can drive better decisions.” Spengler also emphasized the importance of educating citizens in the use of technology. “Open data is not really useful if the public does not engage with it.”

Steven Adler, IBM Information Strategist, gave the closing keynote speech.

The one-day conference was co-sponsored by IGS, CITRIS, and the CITRIS Data & Democracy Initiative, with support from, Accela, Socrata, California Forward, the UC Berkeley Canadian Studies Program, the UC Berkeley School of Information, and the Canadian Consulate General. 

Video of the event is available on YouTube.

Photo of Richard Stirling (Open Data Institute, UK) by Cheryl Martinez