Open Data Barometer Finds Low Pressure, Small Gains

21 January 2015

Only “small gains” have occurred in the availability of open data in 86 countries, according to the second edition of the Open Data Barometer.

“There is still a long way to go to put the power of data in the hands of citizens,” according to the report issued Jan. 20 by the Worldwide Web Foundation.

“All too often,” the report says, “governments are still publishing only selected datasets, with limited data published on important areas such as public sector performance and expenditure.”

Over 90 percent of the countries surveyed do not publish key datasets in open formats, according to the research.

Almost half of the G7 countries are still not publishing the key datasets they promised to release in 2013, the report emphasizes.

The “data divide” between countries with strong open data initiatives, and those without, “has grown,” the report also states.

The barometer is prepared by the Worldwide Web Foundation using a multi-faceted method that draws on three kinds of data: peer-reviewed expert survey responses, detailed dataset assessments and secondary data.

A measure of implementation is the main ingredient in the assessment. The rankings are based on three sub-indexes, each containing three components: readiness (25 percent), implementation (50 percent) and impacts (25 percent). Among other things, the experts consulted evaluated the availability of 15 kinds of data within each country, and answered a 10-point checklist with respect to the qualities of data provided.

Work on improving the measurement is ongoing, summarized in the notes of a June 2014 meeting that also includes links other efforts to measure open data internationally. A list of other WWWF research and reports is here. There’s also a bibliography on open data research.

The 3rd International Open Data Conference (IODC), to be held in Ottawa from May 28-29, and organizers are seeking proposals for the agenda and submissions of papers for a research symposium.

Major Weaknesses Identified

The barometer measures the lack of open data in a variety of ways.

Data on government spending and performance “remains inaccessible or paywalled in most countries.” Of the countries included in the barometer, just 8 percent publish open data on government spending.

“Information critical to fight corruption and promote fair competition, such as company registers, public sector contracts, and land titles, is even harder to get,” the researchers said. Only 6 percent of the countries publish open data on government contracts.

“In most countries, proactive disclosure of government data is not mandated in law or policy as part of a wider right to information, and privacy protections are weak or uncertain,” according to the report.

Bank Report Sees Weaknesss, Opportunity

In related research reaching similar conclusions, the World Bank has found that “poor data quality was the number one issue” identified by companies looking to capitalize on it. They also reported “significant waste and inefficiency in accessing/scraping/cleaning data.”

A World Bank blog post by Alla Morrison and Prasanna Lal Das describes new research on entrpreneurial efforts spurred by open data, with an emphasis on regional activity.

“Open data is still a very nascent concept in emerging markets,” they wrote. “There’s only a small class of entrepreneurs/investors that is aware of the economic possibilities, according to their research and “there’s a lot of work to do in the ‘enabling environment’.”

In another recent blog post, the World Bank drew attention to three issues papers written in response to last August’s call by the UN Independent Expert Advisory Group (IEAG) “Data Revolution” report that recommended a new funding stream to support the Data Revolution for sustainable development.

The World Bank Group has drafted issues papers on three priority areas: data innovation, public-private partnerships for data, and data literacy and promotion of data use.

Other Barometer Findings

In other conclusions, the barometer researchers found:

– The top five ranked countries are: UK, US, Sweden, France and New Zealand. The report also identified countries with emerging programs and those with “constrained capacity.”

– “A major theme identified in this year’s study, as we compared dataset assessments from 2013 and 2014, was the prevalence of datasets, which have not been updated.”

– “The readiness of states, citizens and entrepreneurs to secure the benefits of open government data (OGD) has progressed little over the last year….”

– “Evidence of impacts from open data remain extremely limited.”

– “Entrepreneurial open data use has overtaken accountability as the most frequently observed impact from OGD. Transparency and accountability impacts are the second most observed impact, though within ‘emerging and advancing’ countries transparency and accountability impacts come top.”

– “The effective use of open data to increase environmental sustainability and support greater inclusion of marginalised groups remains extremely rare.”

G8 Initiative Flagged

The lack of measurable progress comes despite commitments by international leaders, the report says, also making a series of recommendations.

The leaders of the G8 in 2013 signed an Open Data Charter – promising to make public sector data openly available, without charge and in re-useable formats. In 2014, the G20 pledged to advance open data as a tool against corruption.

Still lacking, and needed, the report’s recommendations state, are:

  • High-level political commitment to proactive disclosure of public sector data, particularly the data most critical to accountability
  • Sustained investment in supporting and training a broad cross-section of civil society and entrepreneurs to understand and use data effectively
  • Contextualizing open data tools and approaches to local needs, for example by making data visually accessible in countries with lower literacy levels.
  • Support for city-level open data initiatives as a complement to national-level programmes
  • Legal reform to ensure that guarantees of the right to information and the right to privacy underpin open data initiatives

Davies Commentary

In a recent blog post, done before the release of the 2014 barometer, the state of the open data movement was assessed by Tim Davies. He lists himself as “researcher of #opendata, democracy & development. #WebScience & social policy PhD candidate. @berkmancenter affiliate. Co-director at http://PracticalParticipation.co.uk.”

Davies concluded:

The web has clearly evolved from a platform centred on documents to become a data-rich platform. Yet, it is public policy that will shape whether it is ultimately a platform that shares data openly about powerful institutions, enabling bottom up participation and accountability, or whether data traces left online become increasingly important, yet opaque, tools of governance and control. Both open data campaigners and privacy advocates have a key role in securing data revolutions that will ultimately bring about a better balance of power in our world.

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