Open Data Expansion Stalls, According to WWF Barometer

24 May 2017

“The number of global truly open datasets remains at a standstill,” according to World Wide Web Foundation researchers, who report that only seven percent of government data is fully open.

The findings come in the fourth edition of the Open Data Barometer, an annual assessment which this year was enlarged to include 1,725 datasets from 15 different sectors across 115 countries. The report summarizes:

Only seven governments include a statement on open data by default in their current policies. Furthermore, we found that only 7% of the data is fully open, only one of every two datasets is machine readable and only one in four datasets has an open licence. While more data has become available in a machine readable format and under an open licence since the first edition of the Barometer, the number of global truly open datasets remains at a standstill.

Based on the detailed country-by-country rankings, the report says that some countries continue to be leaders on open data, a few have stepped up their game, but some have slipped backwards.

The first of five recommendations, as in years past, advocates making government data “open by default” in conformance with the principles set out in the Open Data Charter.

The first recommendation supports buttressing access laws (a more specific proposal than in previous reports), stating, “Where in place, right to information (RTI) laws should be revised to provide for proactive disclosure that guarantees non-personal government data will be open by default, available in machine-readable formats, and published under open licences that allow the data to be re-used.”

Among other conclusions, the report is critical of open data portals, saying they “often do not contain the data people really want and need.” The data itself “is usually incomplete, out of date, of low quality, and fragmented.” The researchers “found some evidence that open data is contributing to economic growth and the creation of new businesses, but little or no evidence that it is contributing to social inclusion (whether by enhancing excluded groups’ access to public services or increasing their participation in policy decisions).”

(See FreedomInfo.org reports on the third Barometer, the second Barometer and the first Barometer.)

The Barometer findings are broadly consistent with those recently released in the 4th edition of the Global Open Data Index (GODI), conducted by Open Knowledge International. GODI compares national government in 94 places across the 15 key datasets that have been assessed as the most useful for solving social challenges. In the latest edition, 1,410 datasets were evaluated, but only 10% of these are open according to the Open Definition.

Follow Up Q & A

FreedomInfo.org asked several follow-up questions and received answers from Carlos Iglesias, lead researcher on the Barometer.

Can you indicate any factors that contributed to more successful data production?

  • Adopt a solid strategy with specific objectives and expectations, and realistic open data targets.
  • Work with citizens to understand their priority needs and address those.
  • Improve data management practices, build capacity inside and outside of government and support a culture of data innovation.
  • Implement strong data protection and FOI legislation, provide proactive disclosure and formatting requirements.
  • Most positive examples are countries that have adopted the Open Data Charter; we encourage others to follow suit.
  • These all require political commitment to enable the required gov transformational process, guarantee sustainability and achieve long-term success.

Why do the recommendations only exhort governments, without encouraging the demand side. In most of these countries, the public could seek access to the data through FOI laws. Why isn’t this happening? Could it happen more? Why not recommend/support this sort of activism?

We recognise the demand side is very important, and we do have some demand side indicators in the research (degree of engagement between governments and civil society, availability of capacity building programmes, strength of FOI frameworks).

However, given limited resources, we put the primary focus of the Barometer on the factors that policymakers and government officials oversee in the data management and proactive publication process, given we want to measure the openness of government data specifically.

Outside of the Barometer research, we do engage frequently with the demand side in other projects, for example through our Open Data Lab in Jakarta which conducts capacity building & research for local NGOs, including FOI as part of that. We strongly believe the two go hand-in-hand, and are always quick to point out to governments that having one is no excuse to weaken the other.

Canadian Open Data Effort Evaluated

Separately, the record of a public-private partnership, the Canadian Open Data Exchange, is evaluated in a detailed article by Claire Brownell in The Financial Post.

Launched in 2015 with $6 million in funding, the Exchange aimed to incubate 15 new companies, create 370 direct and indirect jobs and attract $50 million in venture capital over its three-year mandate. “Two years into that three-year mandate, ODX is on track to reach its goals for creating jobs and companies, but has fallen short of its target for attracting investments for open data companies. Its future — and the long-term fate of government open data initiatives — is uncertain,” according to the article. It states:

ODX managing director Kevin Tuer said the organization has spent more time than he expected raising awareness about the potential of open data among both companies and governments. To convince governments to open up more data, ODX needs success stories and tangible evidence of economic value being created by the initiative — but to get those stories, it needs to convince governments to open up more data.

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