Open Data vs. COVID-19 workshop: Open Data and Community Engagement in Kosovo

On September 29, Nathan Coyle from New Union facilitated an online workshop in Kosovo on open data and community engagement: Open Data vs. COVID-19. The workshop was organized by Open Data Kosovo and was part of the “Open Government Data Ecosystems” project implemented by Open Data Kosovo and funded by the US Embassy in Kosovo.

The aim of the workshop was to reinforce the importance of open data, especially due to the pandemic, by analyzing global cases and how countries reacted to mitigate the negative impact of the pandemic via open data. The workshop was attended by public officials from Kosovo, more specifically, municipal officials, and central government officials.

What is the “Open Government Data Ecosystems” project?

Open Government Data Ecosystems is a twelve-month long project that aimed at increasing the capacities of public officials, local CSOs, journalists and citizens on accessing public documents and on open data based on the new and adopted Law on Access to Public Documents. It also addressed the lack of understanding of what constitutes a public document and what constitutes open data among the target beneficiaries, through conducting training for public officials, local CSOs and journalists, and among the public, through data journalism stories and informative videos. At the end of the project, the beneficiaries were expected to enhance the openness of public institutions, acquire increased skills with regards to access to public documents and open data, enjoy stronger communication between them, and have the necessary resources to understand what public documents and open data are.

About the Workshop

The workshop provided information and insights on how COVID-19 created opportunities to learn how government officials can interact with NGOs in our local communities. Furthermore the workshop brought different global perspectives as case studies to seeing how governments around the world utilized open data practices to cope with the pandemic and the circumstances created due to it.

Nathan presented some of the work that has been conducted with governments across the world on open data outreach with a focus on open data outreach requirements and needs during the Covid-19 pandemic. This gave participants ideas on how they can use open data to better interact with NGOs, even using the pandemic to find new social trends within their community.

What participants found as some of the biggest issues in regard to why NGOs in Kosovo do not seek out open data, was that in most cases there is a lack of trust and the fear of misuse of data. Furthermore, others felt that the lack of education and training in this area also contributes to this issue in the broader spectrum.

The experience from a recent project New Union has been running with Governments across the world on how they can improve the update of government open data for NGOs who work in these countries was particularly interesting.

Participants discussed why using open data is important for civil society that has the capacity for social change in communities and that governments should do more to help the sector better understand open data and how it can be used to improve their capacity. The workshop also covered what are the problems with using open data and how open data can be better used by community groups for reporting, mapping and monitoring social trends, founding, blogging and journalism.

Some of the activities during the workshop sparked debates and some interesting discussions.

The first activity looked at strategies for harvesting data from our communities:

A number of themes emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic such as: stories from people who have had to isolate, the effect of COVID-19 on people’s mental health, the increased usage of alcohol, the effect of job losses in the country and the impact of business restrictions on small business owners.

Participants deliberated on some of the consequences the Coronavirus has caused in communities across Kosovo and how communities can be included in gathering evidence to document the effects.

Participants used the post it notes system on Google Jamboard and provided their individual inputs. Here are the received contributions that we discussed within the whole group:

• Using data on park visitors to get more people to stay active post covid;
• Using data to identify public procurement fraud during the times of the pandemic;
• Using Data to raise awareness on the importance of hygiene;
• Using open businesses databases;
• High number of students in Classes - post-pandemic issue;
• Using data to raise awareness of the different forms of violence against women and domestic violence;
• Policy makers, in consultation with civil society members, must assess the possible trade-offs in data utilisation during this crisis;
• Data on the capacities of the hospitals on tackling the Covid-19;
• Supporting the initiatives and projects aimed at improving the lives of ethnic minorities in the Republic of Kosovo.

Participants agreed that COVID-19 has brought about new challenges and that community groups must work together with central and local governments to better address these difficulties.

The workshop also included a presentation of examples of how different countries are dealing with open data and COVID-19 outreach at the central and local level.

Open Data with Public Officials of Kosovo

During this activity public officials coming from the central and local level attended this session on Open Data in Times of COVID. It was noted that even before COVID-19 the number of datasets published by the public institutions still remained very low. Even if that publication of datasets was low, the demand for it was not high which would be a catalizator for public institutions.

The discussion evolved mostly around gathering data on the impact that the pandemic has got in the economy as well as in health. This would allow a better understanding of the pattern and also how to design interventions in this line. Moreover, during the pandemic the number of using cars and has lowed, does that mean that we can seek new interventions for transport (Bikes and others).

Points raised were:

• Investigate businesses that have experienced significant economic downturns during the COVID-19 pandemic
• Collect data on which businesses have been damaged more, whether the number of employees has decreased, have been laid off, or most likely whether there are businesses that have closed completely. Based on the collection of this data, the Government should assist these businesses to open or return employees to their jobs.
• For NGOs to collect data on alternative ways of travel other than public transport, data on how this is used during lockdown which then will help to do feasibility - for new bike strips and other alternative transport means - for the local government.
• Seek / collect for data on donation capabilities or readiness of local or int. organizations for covid 19 related operations donations and provide accurate information to all parties (this is good to be done even for small donations)
• Collect data on public procurement procedures during the Covid-19 to track any misuse of public funds
• Collect data on unemployment and eventual new openings during pandemics, and further this could help on analysis the new specific for this period - jobs come during pandemics and the possibility to eventually change the job for people
• Creating a special platform where information would be placed on the consequences caused by the COVID 19 pandemic, in the economy, education, health and in all areas where it has affected. This platform would be good to be made and updated by institutions in cooperation with NGOs.

What has been most important that Public Institutions consider at a great importance the collaboration between CSO and Public Institutions to reach the same goal on making more data available.