The Open Data Barometer (3rd edition)

The Open Data Barometer: “Once the preserve of academics and statisticians, data has become a development cause embraced by everyone from grassroots activists to the UN Secretary-General. There’s now a clear understanding that we need robust data to drive democracy and development — and a lot of it.

Last year, the world agreed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — seventeen global commitments that set an ambitious agenda to end poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change by 2030. Recognising that good data is essential to the success of the SDGs, the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data and the International Open Data Charter were launched as the SDGs were unveiled. These alliances mean the “data revolution” now has over 100 champions willing to fight for it. Meanwhile, Africa adopted the African Data Consensus — a roadmap to improving data standards and availability in a region that has notoriously struggled to capture even basic information such as birth registration.

But while much has been made of the need for bigger and better data to power the SDGs, this year’s Barometer follows the lead set by the International Open Data Charter by focusing on how much of this data will be openly available to the public.

Open data is essential to building accountable and effective institutions, and to ensuring public access to information — both goals of SDG 16. It is also essential for meaningful monitoring of progress on all 169 SDG targets. Yet the promise and possibilities offered by opening up data to journalists, human rights defenders, parliamentarians, and citizens at large go far beyond even these….

At a glance, here are this year’s key findings on the state of open data around the world:

    • Open data is entering the mainstream.The majority of the countries in the survey (55%) now have an open data initiative in place and a national data catalogue providing access to datasets available for re-use. Moreover, new open data initiatives are getting underway or are promised for the near future in a number of countries, including Ecuador, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Nepal, Thailand, Botswana, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda. Demand is high: civil society and the tech community are using government data in 93% of countries surveyed, even in countries where that data is not yet fully open.
    • Despite this, there’s been little to no progress on the number of truly open datasets around the world.Even with the rapid spread of open government data plans and policies, too much critical data remains locked in government filing cabinets. For example, only two countries publish acceptable detailed open public spending data. Of all 1,380 government datasets surveyed, almost 90% are still closed — roughly the same as in the last edition of the Open Data Barometer (when only 130 out of 1,290 datasets, or 10%, were open). What is more, much of the approximately 10% of data that meets the open definition is of poor quality, making it difficult for potential data users to access, process and work with it effectively.
    • “Open-washing” is jeopardising progress. Many governments have advertised their open data policies as a way to burnish their democratic and transparent credentials. But open data, while extremely important, is just one component of a responsive and accountable government. Open data initiatives cannot be effective if not supported by a culture of openness where citizens are encouraged to ask questions and engage, and supported by a legal framework. Disturbingly, in this edition we saw a backslide on freedom of information, transparency, accountability, and privacy indicators in some countries. Until all these factors are in place, open data cannot be a true SDG accelerator.
    • Implementation and resourcing are the weakest links.Progress on the Barometer’s implementation and impact indicators has stalled or even gone into reverse in some cases. Open data can result in net savings for the public purse, but getting individual ministries to allocate the budget and staff needed to publish their data is often an uphill battle, and investment in building user capacity (both inside and outside of government) is scarce. Open data is not yet entrenched in law or policy, and the legal frameworks supporting most open data initiatives are weak. This is a symptom of the tendency of governments to view open data as a fad or experiment with little to no long-term strategy behind its implementation. This results in haphazard implementation, weak demand and limited impact.
    • The gap between data haves and have-nots needs urgent attention.Twenty-six of the top 30 countries in the ranking are high-income countries. Half of open datasets in our study are found in just the top 10 OECD countries, while almost none are in African countries. As the UN pointed out last year, such gaps could create “a whole new inequality frontier” if allowed to persist. Open data champions in several developing countries have launched fledgling initiatives, but too often those good open data intentions are not adequately resourced, resulting in weak momentum and limited success.
    • Governments at the top of the Barometer are being challenged by a new generation of open data adopters. Traditional open data stalwarts such as the USA and UK have seen their rate of progress on open data slow, signalling that new political will and momentum may be needed as more difficult elements of open data are tackled. Fortunately, a new generation of open data adopters, including France, Canada, Mexico, Uruguay, South Korea and the Philippines, are starting to challenge the ranking leaders and are adopting a leadership attitude in their respective regions. The International Open Data Charter could be an important vehicle to sustain and increase momentum in challenger countries, while also stimulating renewed energy in traditional open data leaders….(More)”