When hurricane Patricia made landfall near Cuixmala, Mexico, on the evening of October 23, 2015, it had already intensified to a Category 5. Over the course of the day, meteorologists had watched with disbelief as the storm grew from a common tropical storm to a monster with winds of up to 320 km/hour and sustained winds of 265 km/hour. Hurricane Patricia would go on to become the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere. While scientists were scratching their heads, attempting to understand the storm’s explosive escalation, people on the ground, not just in Mexico but around the world, were piecing together a real-time puzzle that would identify the storm’s path and mobilise all the resources possible to keep populations out of harm’s way. Using openly available data sources, critical information from a myriad of sources were interlinked, including demographics, health facility locations, power infrastructure, road networks, airports, topography—combined with steady updates from international organizations regarding the hurricane’s location, path and speed. Armed with 38 sets of critical databases, some 400 global volunteers mapped 9 thousand kilometres of roads and 90 thousand buildings and hotels and potential mudslide zones, providing over one million people vital information in real time.
This is just one dramatic, real-life example of how open data can improve—and even save—lives, on a potentially massive scale. But, open data is also about bringing a broad range of innovative services to citizens, a goal to which Mexico is firmly committed, backed by high-level political support. What is open government data? It is government data that is made freely available so that it can be repurposed in new, value-added services and products. Towards this end, Mexico has successfully put in place datos.gob.mx, its central open data portal, and has developed technical and regulatory guidelines based on international open data principles. This has resulted in the gradual publication of data by all levels of government in Mexico. Currently 200 public institutions have published over 12,000 databases generating over 300,000 downloads.
A good start, but Mexico wants to do better
Convinced of the potential of open data, Mexico is ready to take it to the next level, transforming promises into public value and impact. It means strengthening the capacities and skills of the Mexican population and its own public sector.
But this can’t happen in a vacuum. It involves a challenging and complex process that weaves together educational policy (e.g. educational programmes offered to meet the evolution and demand of skills of an innovative digital economy), ICT policy (e.g. increasing home-based internet access and broadband connections – relevant when thinking about cloud-based services and their relevance for data management and big data), and open data policies themselves (e.g. the publication of government data based on a demand-driven approach contributes to data reuse, a necessary condition for value creation).
For Mexico, the federal government is assuming the role as a catalyst for value creation. Yet the centre of government needs to invest further resources to engage stakeholders and to better understand data demand.
The benefits go beyond value-added services. Open data can also be an enabler of sustainable development. But this requires two preconditions: a growing demand for skills (e.g. data scientists, data analysts, programmers) must evolve as data-oriented businesses, start-ups and entrepreneurs become stronger players, met by a steadily growing pool of data-literate and skilled professionals.
For the government to fulfil its role as catalyst, skills are also needed within public sector institutions. With more than 3,000 civil servants trained in the past year, the Mexican government is pursuing this goal aggressively. These efforts could be reinforced with educational programmes that support the development of skills across specific user groups such as students and entrepreneurs. The government could also collaborate more deeply with data-driven start-ups, and reach out to more local actors to support open data initiatives at the local level. The efforts of stakeholders, both across public institutions and locally, will increasingly have to be aligned with the goals of the National Open Data Policy and the National Development Plan to multiply the impact of open data.
Like Mexico, now more than ever, OECD governments are acknowledging their essential role as a catalyst within their own national open data ecosystems. The OECD Open Government Data Reviews analyse the implementation of such initiatives in countries such as Korea, France, Spain and Brazil. Mexico’s recently-completed review unveils the government’s efforts to coordinate its multiple initiatives as it positions itself as a central force in the transformation towards a data-driven economy. One important step in this direction is the launch of the Open Data Startup Hub “Labora” during the OECD Ministerial for the Digital Economy held in Cancún on 21-23 June.
But Mexico’s efforts are also helping the public sector to be more efficient. The “Datalab” initiative – developed in co-operation with the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE) – shows the willingness of the Mexican Government to bring talent from outside the government to improve public sector capacities to use, reuse and exploit data for better public policies.
The Mexican Government will need to feed and understand the data demands of the skilled re-users ready to transform ideas into value-added products and services. Multi-stakeholder collaboration is crucial for this to happen. Universities, public sector institutions, students and businesses will have to work together as partners within an open data ecosystem in order to fully reap the potential of open government data and contribute to business and civic innovation across Mexico.
Mexico’s Open Data Startup Hub ‘Labora’