Meet Ireland’s new Open Data Governance Board and its chair, Emer Coleman

23 Oct 2015

Emer Coleman, chair of Ireland’s new Open Data Governance Board. Photo by Paul Clarke

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin has announced the establishment of an Open Data Governance Board with Emer Coleman at its helm.

The Open Data Governance Board will be responsible with advising the Irish Government on a national strategy for its Open Data Initiative, which was launched in July of last year.

Open data in government is about making the data held by public bodies available and easy to access online so that it can be reused and redistributed. The Minister cited the potential of open data to “deliver real economic, social and democtratic benefits across society” in a statement released with the announcement today (23 October).

Nine board members have been appointed following what has been described as an intensive application process. Leading the board as chair is Emer Coleman, an experienced digital leader with a background in both the public and private sector.

Who is Emer Coleman?

A graduate of University College Cork, Coleman left Ireland in 2005 and went on to work on open data and policy in the UK and other countries. She was the architect of the London Datastore, which involved releasing all of London’s public sector data.

She has provided leadership training to organisations such as the Local Government Association, The Leadership Centre for Local Government, PwC Ireland (and their clients), Chinese publishing giant PPMG and The National University of Singapore. In 2014, she was named in Silicon Republic’s Top 100 Women in STEM.

“I’m absolutely delighted that I’ve been asked to chair the board in the company of a group of very able and talented board members,” wrote Coleman in a blog post announcing her new appointment.

“I very much welcome and am excited about the opportunity to be able to bring home the experience that I’ve gained in the field of open data and innovation.”

Who else is on the Open Data Governance Board?

Coleman is joined on the Open Data Governance Board by eight others: three women and five men.

Prof Dietrich Rebholz-Schuhmann, a medical doctor and a computer scientist by training, has had a 20-year scientific career encompassing positions such as a director of research in biotech and principal investigator and group leader roles at the European Bioinformatics Institute and the University of Zürich. He is currently professor of informatics at NUI Galway and director of the Insight Centre for Data Analytics in Galway.

Dr Dennis Jennings was recently inducted into the Internet Society’s Hall of Fame for his internationally recognised work as one of the pioneer’s of the worldwide online network that connects us all today. Dr Jennings has leadership experience in the areas of change management and innovation, primarily with tech start-ups, as well as academic and research experience.

Civic entrepreneur Denis Parfenov is co-founder and director of Open Knowledge Ireland and an Open Knowledge Advisory Council member. He is also the founder of ActiveCitizen, a grassroots initiative which prompted the Government’s commitment to the Open Government Partnership .

Suzanne Duke is director of public policy for Europe at LinkedIn and formerly held the role of head of public policy at Google Ireland. A key part of her job is to partner with governments in harnessing LinkedIn’s data resources to help policymakers better understand and react to their labour markets.

Founder and CEO of Creme Global Cronan McNamara leads a senior management team that accesses, gathers and curates public and private datasets from all over the world and makes them available in their cloud-based analytical models. McNamara also chairs the Irish Software Association in IBEC and recently hosted Dublin’s first Predict conference on data analytics.

Dr Daithí Mac Síthigh is the director of research at Newcastle Law School and his interests lie in both the intersection of law and technology, and public law. He is a member of Create, the centre for copyright and new business models in the UK’s creative economy, which is funded by Research Councils UK.

A recognised leader in the area of open data (and another of Silicon Republic’s Top 100 Women in STEM 2014), Dr Sandra Collins is director of the National Library of Ireland, having previously held the role of director of the Digital Repository of Ireland in the Royal Irish Academy. Here she established and led an ambitious national research centre, developing both policy and e-infrastructure for digital preservation of cultural and social data.

Ashling Cunningham, chief information officer for Ervia (formerly Bord Gáis Éireann), completes the board. She is responsible for information security and data protection in Ervia, as well as developing and implementing data strategy, data quality and data architecture across the organisation.

What is Ireland’s open data plan?

The mandate of the board has been set, and the short summary of this five-page document is to provide leadership and governance in line with best international practice in the area of open data

The board will advise on how to improve the capability of public bodies in implementing open data and to consider opportunities to maximise the value of public sector data and information for long-term benefits.

“I’ve seen first-hand the innovation and economic stimulus that can happen when public bodies make their data open for re-use by third parties. But I’ve also gained lots of experience about the difficulties that public bodies face in dealing with the challenges of data release,” wrote Coleman, who notes Ireland’s own strides towards open data from the first Irish local government data portal, Open Data Fingal, through to the establishment of Dublinked and a national Open Data Portal.

Following the launch of the revamped Open Data Portal this summer, 1,214 datasets are now available from 86 public bodies, and this is growing.

In her new role, Coleman has promised to push for data release, even if unrefined and ‘ugly’, as well as accountability and transparency.

“While not all citizens (and I include myself in that) may be able to understand and wrangle with large datasets filled with numbers and statistics the willingness of government to release its data for public scrutiny and debate has to be the cornerstone of any modern democracy,” she wrote.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Join us again from 30 June to 2 July 2016 for fresh perspectives on leadership, innovation and diversity. Buy your Ultra Early Bird ticket now!

Women Invent is Silicon Republic’s campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. It has been running since March 2013, and is kindly supported by Intel, Open Eir (formerly Eircom Wholesale), Fidelity Investments, Accenture and CoderDojo.

Emer Coleman photo by Paul Clarke

Update, Friday 10 June at 12.37pm: This article has been updated to reflect that Emer Coleman will no longer be speaking at Inspirefest 2016.

Elaine Burke is the editor of Silicon Republic