These past days I was in Astana, Kazachstan. Next to enjoying the tremendous hospitality of the Kazachs, and being impressed with their sense of pride and urge to succeed, I spent my time sharing my open government data experiences of the past 6 years.

The World Bank asked me to keynote at a roundtable with CIO and CTO level officials of a dozen or so CIS countries, at the Kazakh national information technology unit (NITEC) in the House of Ministries (a gigantic building).

At the CIO/CTO of CIS countries roundtable in what seemed the Star Trek Enterprise command deck

In the two days after that, at the invitation of the Kazakh government and the ICT Development Fund, I contributed to the Global e-Gov Forum 2014. It is the third event of its kind, the first two having taken place in Korea (the next ones will be in Kazachstan and Singapore). At the conference I contributed to two workshops, one for UNDESA, presenting how our current project with the Province of North Holland on open data is a catalyst voor civic engagement and (e-)participation. The key message being that publishing data is an intervention in your policy area, that not just addresses the information assymetry between me and my government, but als provides me with a tool to act differently on my own behalf. Both these elements are ultimately impacting government policy goals which is a basis for a governments intrinsic motivation to do open data well. Transparency builds trust and putting data on the table enables frank conversations that would otherwise not be possible. The other was basically the same message, this time in a panel discussion that also contained the CIO of the Dutch Ministry for Interior Affairs, the department in charge of e-government and open government. That made for a nice combination with both overlap and contrasts, juxtaposing national policy with the perspective from individual civil servants trying to do things in practice.

Discussing the operational aspects and impact of using open data for civic engagement

I also chaired the final panel discussion on open government and open data, which contributions from the UN, the French and Kazakh national open data units (ETALAB & NITEC), and a research firm. With a thousand people from almost 80 countries this was a great event to exchange experiences, and I heard a range of great stories from Uruguay to Kenya, from Barbados to Bangladesh, from Estonia to Vietnam.

In panel discussion, and the UNDESA workshop room

Being a VIP guest of the Kazakh government took a bit of getting used to, as I am usually one to arrange my own things. Having a personal assistant plus a dedicated driver with a very luxurious car at my disposal for three days full time does however have its advantages. As does being whisked through airport and border security in under 5 minutes both ways. It meant being able to fully focus on delivering value to the various sessions and audiences, and engage in meaningful conversations, without having to worry about any of the logistics.

Registration desk, and my front row seat