Reflections by Open Data Watch’s Visiting Statistician:
Luis Gonzalez Morales
Last September Open Data Watch (ODW) welcomed our first Visiting Statistician, Luis Gonzalez Morales, to our team. Luis joined us on sabbatical from his role as the Chief of the Web Development and Data Visualization Section of the United Nations Statistics Division. Over the last four months, ODW benefitted from Luis’ decades of experience working in the development data field. Although the sabbatical has officially ended, ODW will continue its close partnership and collaboration with Luis as he returns to UNSD. Below Luis reflects on his sabbatical spent with ODW.
What was the most interesting research project you worked on?
Working with the Open Data Watch team was a great honor, and choosing one project as the most interesting is difficult. Nonetheless, I must say that I really enjoyed being able to do research on cross-domain open data platforms for data integration across international statistical organizations. My goal was to tackle the issue of data silos in the international data and statistical landscape and find ways to give users seamless access to valuable data that exists but may not be easily discoverable. By doing so, I aimed to provide an integrated view of open and accessible data. The sabbatical allowed me to get to know new ways to link related datasets and create views that combine data from multiple sources, giving users a more comprehensive understanding of the data. I hope this work will also help add value for data producers from across the global statistical system, by showing how can they share their data more effectively and improve the visibility and accessibility of their work.
Another project I am grateful to have been invited to participate in during the sabbatical period with Open Data Watch is related to practices and challenges in open dissemination of microdata. Microdata dissemination needs to tackle very complex challenges, ranging from enhancing interoperability standards to strengthening protection of privacy and confidentiality. Over the last few months, I was particularly interested in researching how metadata and interoperability standards such as the Data Documentation Initiative (DDI) can help to improve the accessibility and usability of the microdata sets from different sources, and lead to more efficient—and secure—data sharing and utilization. But being able to join discussions led by Open Data Watch in the area of microdata dissemination, I also learned a lot about governance frameworks that need to be implemented and investments in capacity development that need to take place in order to make technical solutions for microdata dissemination work in practice.
What has ODW taught you about working at the intersection of open data and official statistics?
Working with ODW at the intersection of open data and official statistics has made very clear to me that the tenets of official statistics and open data are highly complementary to each other. In particular, this sabbatical experience has taught me how open data and the data stewardship responsibilities of official statistical systems are closely interrelated. Official statistical systems have the responsibility to collect, process, and disseminate data in a trustworthy and impartial manner, following the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics. And open data is a crucial means to enhance the accessibility and transparency of the data collected by the national and international statistical agencies, making it available to a wider audience and promoting its reuse.
Working with ODW colleagues has also made me keenly aware of the fact that releasing disaggregated official statistics as open data also requires considering issues such as data privacy, confidentiality, and security, which are part of the data stewardship responsibilities of official statistical systems. This balance between openness and protection of sensitive information is crucial to maintain the credibility and trustworthiness of the data, and requires careful planning and implementation on the part of the official statistical offices.
At the same time, we need to ensure that all communities have equal access not only to official statistics as open data, but also to the tools and know-how required to use it and make decisions based on it. For instance, I’m now more conscious than before that we need to go beyond open dissemination of official statistics, and provide the tools and mechanisms that enable users to link those statistics to other types of data, for instance data generated by citizens or the private sector.
Finally, I would say that the sabbatical has taught me the importance of reaching out and cooperating with stakeholders out of our traditional “bubble” in official statistics, and the need to work towards developing common baseline frameworks to unlock the full potential of official statistics for the common good in the context of the larger data ecosystem.
If ODW had unlimited resources and infinite staff capacity, what research question or topic would it be best placed to take on?
This is a difficult question, because with a small team and limited resources, Open Data Watch is already making an impressive impact in providing in-depth analyses aimed to inform the development of strategies that strengthen the capacity of the national and global statistical systems to embrace open data policies. But with more resources, Open Data Watch could certainly expand its research and outreach efforts even further to address the data needs of countries worldwide, leading to a more open and effective global data ecosystem.
I would say, for example, that Open Data Watch is particularly very well positioned to continue leading the development and implementation of new innovative methods to measure and monitor the openness of statistical data and its use by policy and decision makers, in a way that takes into account the needs and interests of a wide range of stakeholder groups. And I certainly hope that ODW will continue to be a partner for national and international organizations for many years to come.
What is one lesson you will take back to UNSD from your time with ODW?
For this question, I would provide a more personal answer, based on my experience in getting to know the work culture of Open Data Watch. I take back to UNSD a huge lesson in the power of being part of a team characterized by high levels of trust, collaboration, and creativity, with communication being used to share knowledge, to solve problems, and to create value.