General practices and responsibilities

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What policies does open data follow?

While an open data policy is primarily intended for data users, it communicates directives and expectations to an entire open data community, including publishers, curators, implementing agencies and users.

Effective open data policies are clear and concise, contain specific deliverables and timelines, and connect to the government’s or organisation’s broader goals or agenda. Some of the best open data policies are short: ideally eight to ten pages at most. The policy should be published on the open data platform.

The characteristics of a good open data policy

Here are some of the characteristics of an open data policy that will ensure it is effective.

It should establish authority

The open data policy should originate with a high-ranking official, preferably a president, a prime minister, or appropriate agency minister.

It should define openness

Include a definition of open data. Clearly explain the process for determining which datasets will be opened. Ideally, the policy will be “open by default”, meaning that unless data is restricted because of confidentiality or other valid reasons, it can be opened.

It should create linkages

Explain how open data aligns with a broader public agenda, such as transparency or improved public services. Define how open data builds upon an existing Right to Information Act or other legislation.

It should define milestones

Some open data policies require each ministry to create its own open aata plan or to identify a number of datasets to open by a certain date.

It should establish a timetable

Commit to a date when the open data programme will launch and when its policies will come into effect.

It should create accountability

Identify which agency and individuals will be responsible for implementation and oversight. A scheduled review process can help measure progress and determine if changes are needed.

It should invite engagement

Provide contact information for data producers and interested users, including the web address of the open data portal. Define the process for answering questions and responding to feedback.

Which policies may clash with open data?

There are many open data policies around Africa. Nigeria has a simple but thorough policy which was adopted in 2016, as does Ghana.

In the table below, we’ve listed which of these policies support or conflict with open data:

“Know Your Budget” programme to engage citizens Statistics Act establishes data release procedures that cause bottlenecks and delays.
Office of Prime Minister has submitted plan to Open Government Partnership Privacy Decree protects data privacy but does not define confidentiality
Freedom of Information Act Data Directive requires cost reimbursement for all public data requests

Data ownership and rights

Each dataset you publish must be reviewed to determine ownership and confirm that your organisation has the right to distribute it openly and publicly.

If your organisation produced the data on its own, then it likely can determine whether the data can be opened. However, if the data was obtained from a third party or produced by contractors, their consent may be required.

Ideally, data production and acquisition contracts should include ownership clauses that clarify these rights. For third party datasets, check for the existence of a contract and consult with qualified legal experts.


We have completed our overview of licence and policy issues. Standard open data licences are usually the easiest way to make data available, and are well understood by users.

You should use standard open data licences whenever possible. Effective open data policies establish, authority, goals, milestones and timelines, for both data producers and users. The best open data policies are short and posted publicly online.

Legal reviews identify policies that could help or hinder an open data program.  The legal review should be completed by qualified legal professionals who are familiar with the regulatory and legislative landscape.

Legal barriers may require the intervention of high-level policymakers to resolve. Lesson 6 will build off of this lesson’s considerations for data policy by identifying and explaining the phases of open data programme design.

Test your knowledge

Open data policy environments