Principles for Design & Development

Community Insights on Principle 6: Use Open Standards, Open Data, Open Source, and Open Innovation

icon-principle6Futures Group and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs hosted the sixth Principle for Digital Development “Use Open Standards, Open Data, Open Source, and Open Innovation” on February 10, 2015 at Futures Group. The interactive session included short presentations from Brandon Pustejovsky, Chief Data Officer, USAID, Laura Hughes, Open Data Specialists, USAID, and Scott Depies, Management and Program Analyst, USAID, followed by a rich discussion around challenges, barriers, limitations, and opportunities.

Highlights of the discussion are captured below.  Does this content resonate with you? Are there aspects of the discussion that you would modify? Join the discussion using the comments section on this page.

Open Innovation 

  • Participate in “open” communities–such as code sprints, hackathons, meet-ups, and working groups–to encourage a free flow of ideas that permeate organizational boundaries.
  • Contribute to building a culture of being “open” by encouraging training and knowledge development about how to leverage open resources within your organization.
  • For managers, consider how to provide incentives and rewards for employees or teams that contribute to and benefit from open innovation.
  • Consider investments in open data, open standards, and open software as an investment in a public good by enabling code and tools to benefit the wider community.

Open Data

  • Treat open data as the norm; it results in better services, innovation, and economic growth.
  • Treat open data as a resource that can increase value to your organization, to the communities where you work, and to the broader public commons
  • Consider how data generated by your project can be shared publicly; in the case of data collected with funding from USAID, it is now required that the data be shared
  • Engage with counterparts in the national government to understand and contribute to emerging open data strategies and to support a culture of data collection and use.
  • Protect individuals’ privacy and data security by using layers of access between public (non-sensitive) and private (sensitive).
  • Use an open license to qualify how the data can be used, such as following the guidance available at

Open Standards 

  • Understand how to apply standards–including both terminology and interoperability.
  • Use open standards to promote interoperability and open access, improving accessibility to information when it is “pulled” by users.
  • Ensure there is clear buy-in and mandate from the government, including demonstrating efficiencies created through data exchange and interoperability of systems while avoiding vendor or software lock-in.
  • Align incentives among all stakeholders through use cases that provide evidence of broad utility of data collected and shared. Include producers and consumers of data to raise awareness of mutual interests.
  • Address privacy and security by using standards to dictate what information is exposed, and an interoperability layer to control what information is public or private, and who has access.
  • Consider non-technical inputs, such as ensuring there is a strong community behind the standards, and a strong governance model guiding the use of standards. The technology is the easy part.

Open Source 

  • Make an informed decision about whether to use open source, considering factors such as cost, community, standards, stakeholder ownership, and buy-in.
  • Consider cost: the “free” in free and open source software (FOSS) does not mean the long-term use of a tool is without
  • Ask: Is it community-supported? Open source is typically only as strong as the community around it. This includes the staff within your organization managing projects built on the code, the developer community, and other external stakeholders.
  • If open source is determined to be a suitable option, determine whether there is an existing open source solution to contribute to, and ensure there is alignment with your project’s long-term goal, as well as clarity on the technical specifications required to guide open source code adaptation.
  • Consider hybrid models: Open source does not mean non-profit–proprietary products can be built using open source software, open data, and open standardsConsider engaging consultants or private sector groups, particularly those with local experience and knowledge, to adapt and maintain the code.

You can also download a PDF of the Community Discussion document here.

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