It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of open data to improve present and future societies, as well as the value of initiatives that proliferate around the world to consolidate their standards in order to achieve high goals. We analyzed the Open Data Barometer (OBD) report in its third edition.
Thus the UNO, in the 17 Sustainable Development Objective, to eradicate poverty, consider the opening of data as a key factor to achieve some of them, such as those related to education, building cities and sustainable communities and the one related to peace and justice, among others.
The objective is none other than to carry out a “data revolution” under the premise of increasing its variety and quality in the context of the current digital era, also seeking to overcome the challenge globally.
This is a difficult road that, in practice, shows uneven achievements and not a few difficulties, although there is also a growing enthusiasm and commitment reflected in the progressive adoption of the Open Data Charter.
Objective: to achieve a joint development
Remedying this inequality is one of the great challenges of this and many other aspects. In the case of open data, close monitoring is required in order to know the details of the different strategies. With the practical objective, in short, of obtaining key information that helps to promote joint evolution.
In the light of the results of the analyses carried out on the state of the matter, it can only be concluded that we are a long way from achieving it. On the one hand, there are very different contexts and, on the other, we lack sufficient maturity: both a solid culture of dissemination of good practices and homogenising international standards.
Open Data Barometer
Within these approaches, along its various editions, the Open Data Barometer report (OBD) puts us on track of its evolution with a multivariate analysis of open data strategies that are referenced in the subject.
In order to discover the true prevalence and impact of open data initiatives, looking for the ultimate goal pragmatic utility, Open Data Barometer is conducted annually by the World Wide Web Foundation in collaboration with the Open Data for Development (OD4D) network.
Its three reports provide an overview of global trends: comparative data on countries and regions, which are also a global tool for policy-making.
In terms of methodology, it should be noted that the Open Data Barometer is part of the World Wide Web Foundation’s work on common evaluation methods for open data. In short, it is in-depth research combining contextual data, secondary indicators and technical evaluations.
One of its main objectives is to explore key dimensions such as openness of data, implementation and impact. As a barometer of these variables in open data initiatives around the world, it focuses on 92 countries, classifying them according to three parameters or criteria (Preparation, Implementation and Impact).
Monitoring the progress of open data initiatives is the first of them, as well as the implementation of programs, secondly, in order to know to what extent governments are fulfilling their commitments The third, and last, is to assess the economic, political and social impact. On these three criteria, basically, the Open Data Barometer bases its conclusions on the state of open data around the world.
The third edition of the ODB
The third edition of Open Data Barometer, published in April 2016, analyzes the progress of the state of open data government, while measuring achievements in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Marked by the UNO the same year.
Likewise, this third edition follows the spirit of the International Open Data Charter by valuing the fulfillment of its principles…
Open data is essential for creating transparent, accountable and effective institutions and for ensuring public access to information, both of which are SDG objectives. However, as the report goes on to say, we must not lose sight of the fact that, as an engine of innovation, the possibilities offered by the opening up of data go far beyond these.
World rankings: top ten
The Open Data Barometer, as noted above, ranks countries according to the level of publication of key government data, as well as the benefits and impact tests thereof.
Its ranking is not based on a criterion of perfection in the preparation, implementation and impact of open data initiatives, but on a score based on comparative values between countries.
Currently countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States continue to be at the top of the ranking, even though they have stagnated in the development of new measures.
Compared to the countries at the top of the ranking, this third edition has seen the “irruption” of a “new generation” of countries that challenge global leadership in different geographical areas, with the exception of Africa. For example, France is the emerging leader in Europe, Canada in North America, as well as Korea, Japan, Singapore and the Philippines in the Asian region or, going to Latin America, the emerging countries are Mexico and Uruguay.
The top ten countries in the ranking would be in this order: United Kingdom, United States, France, Canada, Denmark, New Zealand, Netherlands, Korea, Sweden and Australia.
Spain, for its part, ranks 13th out of 92 countries that make up this ranking, which represents an advance of four positions in the last two years, taking as a reference the first edition of the report.
Returning to the countries at the top of the table, all of them are characterized by their great willingness, implementation and impact. With respect to implementation, almost half (46 per cent) of all the open data sets we found are in the top ten countries.
The ten in the queue
On the opposite side of the Open Data Barometer are the countries at the bottom of the table. Unlike the best scored group, they are characterized by “very weak overall preparation, few or no open data sets available, and a demonstrable lack of impact.
The ten located in the area of the red lantern are, in this same order: Cameroon, Botswana, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Mali, Myanmar, Zimbabwe, Yemen and Haiti. As can be seen, African countries abound.
Just as Africa was an exception in creating new leaders, it is a continent that dominates the bottom of the table. According to the report, the need for “strong leadership and more efforts in the region” is evident.
Conclusions: a boiling trend
Open data are considered mainstream, as most of the countries studied have an open data initiative and provide access to available data sets for reuse through a national data catalogue.
It also highlights the importance of several countries, including Ecuador, Nepal, Nigeria and Uganda, undertaking open data initiatives or planning to do so. This is all in a high-demand environment, with 93 per cent of the countries surveyed using government data.
Little or no progress
In terms of gaps, “little or no progress in the number of truly open datasets worldwide” is observed, even taking into account the “rapid diffusion” of open government data plans and policies.
In general, it is concluded that progress in implementation and impact indicators has stagnated or regressed. Among other reasons, because open data “are not yet rooted in law or policy”.
More open initiatives
Although some of the new initiatives are small-scale and lack sufficient resources, there has been an increase in both the number and quality of open data initiatives at the national level, as well as in open data catalogues.
A positive trend that, on the other hand, contrasts with a “regrettable” apathy at the local or regional level. Especially given the “enormous potential” that data have at local level to improve the lives of citizens, without going any further to meet the objectives of sustainable development, concludes the report.
Most of the countries surveyed (55%) now have an initiative and a national catalogue of open data at the national level. New commitments are also proliferating in countries around the world…
This trend is also observed in countries that are not included in the report. An example is the Dominican Republic, currently executing its third action plan as a member of the Alliance for Open Government, in which it continues to advance in its commitment to fulfill commitments regarding the openness of information to create a space for exchange between government and citizens.
The objectives of the Open Data Barometer in its open data initiatives seek the use of ICT for a more efficient government, the strengthening of transparency and citizen participation. All this through the unification of information related to diverse areas such as health, economy, education, commerce or, say, the environment.
Just as progress at the global level serves as a reference for each of the countries, the implementations that face regional problems are another common point that helps to progress at the national level. In this sense, the sharing of progress is positive.
Different platforms such as, for example, the Global Summit of the Alliance for Open Government (Paris, 2016), have helped Latin American countries located in the central part of the table. For example, Colombia, Peru or Costa Rica, and also the Dominican Republic. They made known the progress generated in the framework of the implementation of their Action Plans, understood these as a learning process.
Data quality and training
Poor data quality is a widespread problem, suffering from “much of the approximately ten percent of data that meets the definition of open data. As a result, there are problems with access and processing, so data is not always as open as it should be.
In addition, data quality control processes prior to publication are extremely scarce, with exceptions in a few countries, such as the United Kingdom, South Korea, Norway, France or Austria, which address quality issues by having measures in place or by organising working groups to address this issue.
If data quality is a pending subject, so is the lack of academic education for training, which is essential to boost innovation, although progress is being made in this regard. The report concludes that it is difficult to find countries where a full range of advanced training is available.
Far from development objectives
On the other hand, the report concludes that much remains to be done to make open data a real development engine and, in particular, a “real SDG accelerator”.
It is underlined that there is a general lack of key aspects for its long-term availability and impact generation, such as having “a clear policy framework and benefiting from a coherent approach to global data management”. Specifically, “only 6 of the 92 countries studied had an explicit political commitment”.
In addition, the legal frameworks supporting most initiatives are weak and only a small part of the countries offer free, open online access to critical data sets for SDGs. These include census or public expenditure data, maps, education or health.
And the problem goes further,” says the ODB report, “since open data is one more component of progress, so these initiatives are of little or no use if they are not developed in a favourable context.
It is also noted that “there has been a decline in the freedom of information, transparency, accountability and privacy indicators in some countries”; at the same time, the weakest links are considered, both the implementation and the resources dedicated to open data projects.
Both are signs that governments have a tendency to regard open data as “a fashion or experiment with little or no long-term strategy.
The impact of open data initiatives
The weaknesses identified largely explain the conclusions drawn in the essential chapter on political, social and economic impact. After mentioning the measurement difficulties of open data initiatives, it is noted that their evidence is limited.
With the data available in the Open Data Barometer report, it is concluded that the political impact has decreased by an average of 22 percent, especially in the areas of transparency and accountability. A clear symptom, the report says, is that governments are not devoting enough staff and resources to the implementation of open data, making it difficult to meet expectations of “real social change”.
Other recommendations included in the document include greater support for the International Open Data Charter, broadening and deepening the different initiatives, harmonizing open data with privacy, transparency and the right to information, and prioritizing the data most in demand.
A turning point
In this third edition of the Open Data Barometer, the importance of urgently addressing “the gap between those who have data and those who do not” is also highlighted. In its final conclusions, summarizing, the current moment is defined as a “turning point” with its face and its cross.
On the one hand, open data policy commitments and initiatives have spread rapidly. But on the other hand, their implementation and impact are “lagging behind, creating the risk that the movement of open data will vanish into a ghost town of abandoned portals and forgotten applications,” the report concludes.