A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity give a presentation in some training sessions on open data and the reuse of public sector information. All of them were oriented to disseminate these policies and its legal framework among civil servants and public employees. I usually focus this kind of sessions as an opportunity to convince my colleagues of the economic and social benefits of releasing public sector information. As times goes by and I take part in more training sessions, I begin to think that it would a good idea to introduce in the sessions some remarks about why is important to foster data skills and culture among the society and the role the public sector should play as the spearhead of this dissemination activity.
There is a clear gap between the potential economic value of the reuse of public sector information and its current actual value. While the European Commission has estimated this potential value in 40.000 € million with a spillover of 140.000 € Million, several studies in Member States using different methodologies have reached the conclusion that the actual value is around 10% of the estimations above (see studies in UK and Spain). Of course one reason for this gap could be the scarcity of valuable public sector information available, but we should not underestimate the lack of capabilities to take advantage of the data available in a valuable manner as another critical cause for this gap.
Maybe you could think the situation described above it is a well known fact. But I´m not talking about the lack of big data and open data professionals highlighted by the experts. The problem is deeper and more spreaded. A data divide is begining to arise, and in the same way that, years ago, digital literacy campaigns were deployed now we need data literacy campaigns if we want to reap as a society the benefits of the data revolution.
The economic reason is important enough, but there are also social reasons for spreading the data culture among the citizens. Crowdsourcing could be a disruption as innovative as the cloud services for the public sector. The latter is technology on demand, the former is human resources on demand. But in a data driven society these human resources will be valuable only if they have a certain command of the data skills. Therefore, the collaboration pillar of the open government model will be impossible to build up within a society that lacks of culture of the value of data. As someone has pointed, this data or digital literacy campaigns should be mixed with civic literacy.
And the data literacy campaigns should start within the public sector. The reason is so obvious. If we provide the front-line civil servants with these needed data skills they would be able to help the community they serve to take full advantage of the open data resources available or they would be able to develop their own services using public datasets or public APIs. Besides beign an efficient manner to spread the data culture, this would imply a great leap in public sector effectiveness.