Matching Demand to the Supply of Open Data Know How: The Network of Innovators Experiment

By Beth Noveck and Andrew Young

Over 2000 participants from around the world are expected to arrive in Ottawa today for the Third International Open Data Conference (IODC). The event follows last month’s first-of-its-kind Pew survey on open government data. Over forty countries have created open data portals and released over a million datasets for public re-use. What potentially makes open data a powerful tool for governing better – and the reason why so many people are converging on Ottawa – is the ability of people inside and outside of institutions to use open data to create useful policies, tools, visualizations, maps, and apps. Open data can provide the raw material to convene informed conversations about what’s broken and the empirical foundation for developing solutions.

For all the interest and enthusiasm, however, we need more people who know how to open up data in response to public demand, how to encourage use, and measure the impact of open data. To accelerate the effective adoption of governance innovations like open data, the GovLab in collaboration with innovation leaders across seven countries, is developing the Network of Innovators (NoI) — the taxonomy, technologies, and strategies for connecting the considerable intelligence and expertise of today’s governance innovators, including those with expertise about how to use open data to govern differently, to those wishing to innovate tomorrow.

The NoI is a mobile application that makes searchable the know-how of innovators on topics integral to governing more effectively and legitimately, such as opening data, prize-backed challenges and crowdsourcing for public good. By answering questions about governance innovation skills and experiences, the participant creates a profile, enabling her to be matched to those with complementary knowledge—either those who are similar or different—to enable mutual support and learning.

NoI adopts a more nuanced way of sharing and finding expertise – one that looks beyond traditional credentials to focus on real world know-how. Instead of rigid categories or open-ended tags, NoI attempts to get at what people know by asking the kinds of questions they could answer. In response to those questions, they can specify the expertise they have and want to share: whether they have the ability to do something, to tell someone about it, or to refer them to others knowledgeable about the topic.

We are testing a first version of the Network of Innovators at the International Open Data Conference, Ottawa, Canada, May 28-29, 2015 by asking participants to share what they know about open data and to use the tool find those with complementary expertise. This is an experiment. We want to understand whether the approach works, how people use such a tool, and how they might want to use it in the future. The aim is both to enhance the conference experience by matching people for mutual learning but also to improve the design of the platform. We plan a next release at the Open Government Partnership Summit in Mexico in October 2015.

Although initially planned as an intra-governmental tool, we are using this with the whole open data community in Ottawa because, eventually, the goal is to end up with a knowledge network of individuals and organizations who have worked on innovative projects—inside and outside of government.

In the end, the Network of Innovators will be  a directory (also known as an expert network) of individuals and the innovative projects they have worked on together with the communications tools to ask a question, convene groups of varying sizes, or engage people in drafting collaboratively. The hope is to make it possible for those seeking to innovate governance to:

  • Find who else has experience trying an innovation.
  • Identify who has worked on a particular type of policy or problem and knows of something new that works.
  • Find collaborators to develop new ideas for tackling a shared problem together.
  • Form alliances and networks of supporters.
  • And, in so doing, describe the job profile of the 21st century public servant.

At Ottawa, we hope to begin the learning process about whether and how expert networks can improve our ability to match the demand for innovative expertise to the supply of it.

For more about the NoI, see



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